100 Years of Olympic Films
26: Albertville/Barcelona 1992
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.
The 26th disc in Criterion’s Blu-ray box set 100 Years of Olympic Films features two films covering the 1992 Games: One Light, One World, covering the Albertville Winter Games, directed by Joe Jay Jalbert and R. Douglas Copsey, and Carlos Saura’s Marathon, covering the Barcelona Summer Games. The first film is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 while the second is presented in 1.78:1. The two films are delivered on a dual-layer disc and both receive 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes.
Adrian Wood’s essay in the set’s included book does actually go into the restoration of One Light, One World in great detail. The film was stored by the IOC on standard-definition tape so it was decided to go to the original 16mm film materials (scanned at 2K) and reconstruct the film with Jalbert consulting. Somewhat disappointingly some of the material wasn’t available in 16mm and the restoration required going to less-than-ideal sources to fill in the gaps: standard-definition footage. The end results still manage to be pleasing, though unsurprisingly inconsistent. It’s unclear whether there had been 16mm footage filmed for these portions and it’s now missing, but Cowie’s essay for the film does mention that some of the event footage was shot on video.
A majority of the restoration appears to be sourced from film, and this footage all looks wonderful. It’s sharp, it’s crisp, highly detailed, smooth in motion, and doesn’t present any noticeable flaws or problems, all damage appearing to have been removed. Film grain is rendered incredibly well, looking natural and clean, and these portions do look like film. The standard-definition footage is unfortunately littered with artifacts, more than likely because it has been upscaled to blend with the 2K footage. This standard-definition footage is very fuzzy, lacking detail and texture, while also presenting jagged edges, edge halos, and obvious ghosting with some of the quicker motions, like skiers zooming past the camera.
Thankfully the lower quality footage is the exception. There are some longer sequences but a lot of the time it’s usually a quick shot, going from 16mm footage to lower-quality then back to 16mm. On the whole the picture still looks solid.
Marthon (presented in a longer 130-minute version, Cowie mentioning in his essay that the original film ran 115-minutes) offers a far sharper and more pleasing presentation in comparison, and it is one of the stronger ones in the set. The notes don’t make mention but by the looks of it I would guess this is a 4K restoration and mostly sourced from 35mm film elements, more than likely the original camera negative. I say “mostly” because a couple of short portions look to come from standard definition footage that was possibly broadcast on television: the footage of the Israeli team during the opening ceremony, along with a short amount of football (aka soccer) footage, other than the last portion before the next event. Outside of those very short segments the rest of the film looks spectacular.
The opening ceremony looks particularly beautiful, with gorgeous oranges and blues and a wonderful rendering of the highly detailed costumes and set pieces. That extraordinary level of detail carries on throughout the rest of the film, with the crowds in the long shots of the stadium looking distinct and clear. The film also has a wonderful filmic texture all through (except for those brief standard definition moments), the fine grain rendered exceptionally. Colours are stunning and black levels are rich and deep, even allowing the shadow details to come through.
Overall both are good, but the Albertville film contains more standard-definition footage. The Barcelona film, on the other hand, looks gorgeous (those couple of standard definition moments being quick), and it offers one of the better presentations in the set.
One Light, One World (1992): 8/10 Marathon (1992): 9/10
Both films offer lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround soundtracks. Of the two films Marathon offers the richer and more interesting sound design. The mix nicely spreads through the speakers, offering wide range and superb fidelity. It’s sharp and offers some wonderful depth, and doesn’t present any noticeable damage or noise.
One Light, One World is a bit weaker, but it still manages to offer a nice sound mix that does spread audio when needed, but it’s still front-heavy. This one offers narration, and it comes from none other than movie trailer guy, Don LaFontaine. Despite his deep voice, though, I still found fidelity weak and his voice is far flatter than it should be. Still, there isn’t any noticeable damage and the track is clean.
One Light, One World (1992): 7/10 Marathon (1992): 8/10
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. Each film gets its own essay. For One Light, One World Cowie examines how it presents the events and the athletes. Marathon has a far more interesting history and Cowie provides details, from how Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson was originally involved, to how Carlos Saura originally envisioned making a fictional study before deciding a documentary approach would be best. He also examines the directors use of sound and music in the film. (The grade given here refers to the supplements for the set as a whole, which, in this case, is just the included book.)
Despite the necessity to fill in gaps with standard-definition footage (more so with One Light, One World) both presentations offer sharp and clean filmic looks, with Marathon offering one of the stronger looking images in the whole set.