100 Years of Olympic Films
28: Atlanta 1996
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.
Getting ever so close to the end of Criterion’s massive 32-disc box set, 100 Years of Olympic Films, the 28th disc presents Bud Greenspan’s film covering the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, Atlanta’s Olympic Glory, in the odd aspect ratio of 1.35:1. It is presented on a dual-layer disc with a 1080i/60hz high-definition encode.
Like Greenspan’s film covering the Lillehammer Winter Games on the previous disc this film was shot on 16mm but edited and completed on video, which is what the IOC has stored. One Light, One World was another film that followed a similar process, but Adrian Wood was able to get his hands on most of the original elements for the film and rescan them in 2K (though had to insert video footage to fill in gaps). Since the same effort was not put into this film (and some of the other films following this one in the set) I can only assume that the original elements no longer exist.
As it is we really only get an above average video presentation. Details are fuzzy, never sharp, and the image presents several artifacts that would be inherent to the source: noise, compression noise, jagged edges, shimmering, and everything else. Even the colours aren’t as impressive here as they were for the Lillehammer film. I also noticed more obvious bits of print issues, a few hairs sticking out.
Again, it is what it is and without the ability to go back to the original film elements there isn’t much that can be done. It’s a video presentation in the end, though still an improvement over anything VHS would ever be capable of delivering.
The film also comes with a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround presentation. Quality is excellent and it fills out the fronts nicely, with some of the audio making its way to the rears. Nothing overly aggressive in regards to the mix, but the quality is good.
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. The essay here again looks at Greenspan’s method of documenting the events, giving portraits of various athletes, and covering specific moments of the events. (The grade given here refers to the supplements for the set as a whole, which, in this case, is just the included book.)
Another film disappointingly sourced from video but I can only assume the original elements are no longer available. Disappointing but still watchable.