100 Years of Olympic Films
23: Calgary 1988
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 23 of Criterion’s massive Blu-ray set 100 Years of Olympic Films presents Bud Greenspan’s Calgary ’88: 16 Days of Glory in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. It appears to be a 2K restoration and has been encoded here at 1080p/24hz.
The previous film in the set, Greenspan’s 16 Days of Glory was almost 5 hours long and Criterion unfortunately packed the whole thing on one disc. While the image still came out looking good, the compression (and possible noise reduction to control the grain because of said compression) gave the film less of a film look compared to other films in the set. This film is a lengthy one as well, but at a little over 3 hours it’s far more manageable in the end.
As expected the restoration work has methodically cleaned up all flaws: outside of some archival footage edited in to parts of the film there isn’t a mark or scratch in sight. Colours also manage to look quite wonderful, and like the LA games, there’s a lot of neon (again, the 80’s) but all of them come off striking and clean. The white snow also looks wonderful, balanced nicely so that you can still make out details like ski tracks, foot prints and more. Black levels are also nice and inky, the closing nighttime ceremony looking terrific.
The encode is much better here as well, though not perfect. A grainier film stock was used and the grain is looks great for the most part, and this in turn allows all of those sharp finer details to pop off the screen. There are no significant digital flaws to speak of, but there are times, primarily in darker shots and then shots where it’s snowing, where the grain is noisier than in other places, and it could be related to compression. For most of the film, though, grain looks clean and natural.
In the end it’s yet another solid presentation with a nice filmic look, an improvement over the previous film in the set.
Like the previous film this one also includes a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack. Structure is similar to the last film, with Greenspan covering the events but getting interviews with the players. The film’s narration and the voices of the interviewees all sound a bit flat, having what I would call more of a television quality to them. The event sequences again offer a wider, more dynamic sound presentation, where it sounds like the crowds are screaming and applauding around you. The sounds from the events, like the whooshing of a bob sled or the slicing of skates, also sound sharp.
As mentioned in the other articles on this set 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. The film on this disc gets a fairly short essay, with Cowie focusing more on some of the events over Greenspan’s style. (The grade given here refers to the supplements for the set as a whole, which, in this case, is just the included book.)
Another lengthy Bud Greenspan film, though this one has a far more film-like look than the previous one covering the L.A. Games.