100 Years of Olympic Films
18: Sapporo/Munich 1972
Spanning fifty-three movies and forty-one editions of the Olympic Summer and Winter Games, this one-of-a-kind collection assembles, for the first time, a century’s worth of Olympic films—the culmination of a monumental, award-winning archival project encompassing dozens of new restorations by the International Olympic Committee. These documentaries cast a cinematic eye on some of the most iconic moments in the history of modern sports, spotlighting athletes who embody the Olympic motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger”: Jesse Owens shattering sprinting world records on the track in 1936 Berlin, Jean Claude-Killy dominating the slopes of Grenoble in 1968, Joan Benoit breaking away to win the first-ever women’s marathon on the streets of Los Angeles in 1984. In addition to the work of Bud Greenspan, the man behind an impressive ten Olympic features, this stirring collective chronicle of triumph and defeat includes such landmarks of the documentary form as Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia and Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, along with lesser-known but captivating contributions by major directors like Claude Lelouch, Carlos Saura, and Miloš Forman. It also serves as a fascinating window onto the formal development of cinema itself, as well as the technological progress that has enabled the viewer, over the years, to get ever closer to the action. Traversing continents and decades, and reflecting as well the social, cultural, and political changes that have shaped our recent history, this remarkable marathon of films offers nothing less than a panorama of a hundred years of human endeavor.
Disc 18 of Criterion’s 32-disc box set 100 Years of Olympic Films presents two films covering the 1972 Games: Masahiro Shinoda’s Sapporo Winter Games (presented in 2.35:1) and Visions of Eight (presented in 1.85:1), directed by Milos Forman, Kon Ichikawa, Claude Lelouch, Yuri Ozerov, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger, and Mai Zetterling. Both films are given 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and either come from 2K or 4K restorations (though I’m pretty sure Visions of Eight does come from a 4K one).
Visions of Eight comes out as the stronger looking of the two but both look exceptional. Visions of Eight delivers a sharper image, which is also one of the better ones in the set (so far) at rendering grain. There are some stylistic moments where the image is distorted in some way but outside of this the level of clarity is stunning. Colours are also brilliant, the yellows in the background of the weight lifting segment looking being particularly striking. Black levels are also strong, though a few darker shots crush out details a bit.
Sapporo isn’t as razor-sharp but details are still superb and I would never call the image “soft.” Colours also look good and are balanced nicely against the white backgrounds. Film grain is present but a few grainier shots are noticeably noisier.
Both films have also gone through rather vigorous restorations and I don’t recall any noteworthy damage in either film. Overall the two offer another set of stand-out presentations.
Sapporo Winter Olympics (1972): 8/10 Visions of Eight (1973): 9/10
Both films receive lossless PCM 1.0 mono tracks. Both are a bit flat and I thought Sapporo could sound a little edgy. But otherwise they both get the job done and are also both clean.
The only disappointing aspect to this set is that there are no on-disc special features to speak of. The set does come with an incredibly thorough 216-page hardbound book, featuring material on the restorations by Adrian Wood along with essays covering the films, all written by film scholar Peter Cowie. It also filled with photos from the various events. Cowie provides an essay for each film here, Sapporo (probably unfairly) getting one of the shorter essays in the whole book. But for Visions of Eight—which gets one of the longer essays in the book—Cowie writes about each individual segment and what the respective director brings to it, though feels that Pfleghar’s segment has aged the poorest. And like all of the other essays there are a number of great photos provided.
As a note the chapter stops for Visions of Eight indicate who directed each episode. (The grade given here refers to the supplements for the set as a whole, which, in this case, is just the included book.)
After a bit of a hiccup with the previous disc (The Olympics in Mexico) the set gets back on track with two wonderful looking presentations.