100 Years of Olympic Films
20: Lake Placid/Moscow 1980
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 20 of Criterion’s 32-disc box set 100 Years of Olympic Films presents two films covering the 1980 Games: Drummond Challis’ and Tony Maylam’s Olympic Spirit (covering the Winter Games) and Yuri Ozerov’s O Sport, You Are Peace! (covering the Summer Games). Both films receive 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes on this dual-layer disc and both are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Detailed notes on the restorations are not provided but both come from either 2K or 4K restorations, with me leaning on O Sport being 4K. I’m also venturing a guess O Sport comes from a 35mm source while Spirit was more than likely filmed on 16mm.
Both look just spectacular with O Sport being another strong one in the set. Even Olympic Spirit, which was funded by the Coca Cola Company—and is basically an ad for them, at least in a number of shots in the last little bit—and only runs 27-minutes gets the same amount of love as just about every other film preceding this. It’s grainy, and there are a few shots where the grain can get a bit heavy (and a wee bit noisy), but the level of detail can still be astounding. Colours are vibrant and rich (some great reds and yellows) and black levels are rich. The restoration has also cleaned up a great deal with only a few faint lines remaining (and those you have to look for). It may not be one of the stand-out films in the set but the same amount of love has gone into this as most of the other films in the set.
O Sport, You Are Peace! offers an absolute gem of a presentation. The restoration work is pretty flawless, nothing of note remaining in regards to damage. But most striking is just the level of detail we get here. The image is crisp and clear throughout, and motion is absolutely smooth, the slo-mo shots scattered throughout looking incredible. There are animated sequences inserted in places and these too look absolutely wonderful. The line work and the small details are crisp and clean, and the colours in these sequences are beautifully saturated. Colours throughout the rest of the film are also striking, the blue skies being particularly gorgeous. Some low-lit shots have blacks that do crush out details a little, but I think this has more to do with photography and light conditions than the restoration. It’s a striking looking image and one of the best to be found in the set.
Both films offer lossless PCM 1.0 mono. O Sport is the better sounding of the two. Though the narration is a bit flat everything else sounds more dynamic and offers a fairly wide bit of range and decent fidelity. Olympic Spirit is made up primarily of what almost sounds like “canned music” (though I wouldn’t be shocked to discover it was made specifically for the film), coming off flat and even a little edgy at times. Outside of that, though, there is no significant damage of note for either film.
Olympic Spirit (1980): 6/10 O Sport, You Are Peace! (1981): 7/10
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 is also filled with photos from the various events. Cowie covers each film separately. His essay for Olympic Spirit is, not that surprisingly, quite short, offering more of a background to the film and noting the lack of details about the events within it (he also points out that another film had been produced though never finished). His essay on O Sport! You Are Peace is lengthier, and he offers some background on director Ozerov before covering the events themselves. (The grade given here refers to the supplements for the set as a whole, which, in this case, is just the included book.)
Of the two O Sport! You Are Peace is the more engaging and interesting (with better coverage of the events) but the restorations and encodes for both films are terrific, looking like film in the end.