' Cinema Romantico: 5 Olympics Movies That Need To Be Made

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

5 Olympics Movies That Need To Be Made

The modern Olympic games have been around since the turn of the 20th century, with the Summertime version debuting in 1896 while the Wintertime version, built on the back of the Nordic Games, eventually arrived in 1924. And yet, despite such expansive history, there are fewer films about these grandiloquent international sporting events than you might surmise. And even when one is made, the quality, more often than not, feels wanting. For every effective film, be it a documentary like “Tokyo Olympiad” or a dramatic recounting of an actual event like “Chariots of Fire”, there are a half-dozen abominations like “Goldengirl” or “Ice Castles”, either woebegone efforts to “say” something or pseudo-inspirational dreck. And that’s not to mention the constant desire to seize on the story of a single athlete, a played out narrative choice that too often provides nothing but paint-by-the-numbers biopics like this year’s “Race” and “Eddie the Eagle.” Oh, it’s a grand shame, because, after all, the Olympics are steeped in natural drama. We can do better, Hollywood; we should do better; let’s do better.

As you may know, which is likely causing you to shake your head while sighing because you see what’s coming, I am something of an Olympics junkie and amateur Olympics semi-historian. And so I feel lightly qualified to impart at least a few suggestions that absolutely no one will listen to.

5 Olympics Movies That Need To Be Made

Runner’s Friction

While this blog is a hearty and vocal proponent of “Cool Runnings” (1994), that spirited comedy was nothing if not uber-Disneyfied, and for “Runner’s Friction” we will turn to the dark side of the bobsled track. The top tier of the sport is high-tech and extremely secretive, where teams will go to extravagant lengths in an unrelenting sleigh war to uncover what mechanical secrets other teams might possess. This was never the case more than in the 80s when the villainous East Germans were the cream of the crop, locked in a fierce rivalry with the Swiss, and the two teams circled each other like lycra-clad intelligence operatives. “Runner’s Friction” would be a throwback, a John le Carre novel on and around the bobsled track, where “the glory of sport” is traded in for subterfuge, and victory only leads to accusation and innuendo.

Exorcism of the Yell

In esteemed Kenny Moore’s wonderful 1988 Sports Illustrated article about a few of the discus’s best he quotes American discus thrower Ben Plucknett as saying he sought a sport “without human judgment. Just the tape and me.” Just the tape and me. I love that sentiment because it suggests a sport that is at once clear cut and abstract. You have to throw the discus further than anyone else, yes, but you are not throwing it against them; when you step into the circle it is you and your throw and the tape measuring your throw. That, I know, does not lend itself to a clear-cut Robert McKee-ish narrative, one with a clear beginning, middle and end. It lends itself to something more esoteric, the tape measure stretching off toward the Olympic Stadium horizon. And that is why I see this as a Werner Herzog project. After all, the eccentric German once made a hallowed, poetic movie about a ski flyer, perhaps the pre-eminent short film, and I can only imagine how lyrically captivating Herzog might render a film about discus throwers competing more against the tape than each other, discus throwers who, in the terminology of Mac Wilkins, experience “an exorcism when (they) yell.” If Exorcism of the Yell is not a phrase Mr. Herzog was born to metaphysically parse in the attempt to seek out his beloved Ecstatic Truth, what is?

Olympic Village, a Richard Linklater Film

You can set your watch by the avalanche of articles that appear in concert with the Olympic games that breathlessly report the number of condoms – this year it’s a whopping 450,000! – in the massive village housing all the nations’ athletes during the event’s fortnight.  If that alone wasn’t enough to cause the more puritanical to quake, Sam Alipour’s article for ESPN during the London Olympics would have caused them to melt down, the article where Christine Brennan said: “You’re taking those athletes out of their natural habit, and you’re dropping them into the world's largest coed dorm.” Coed dorm?! It’s screaming for a movie! But we have to careful. One wrong step and you wind up with “National Lampoon’s Olympic Village” or “American Pie Presents: Olympic Village”. That is not what we want. Which is why the only hope is to hire Richard Linklater and have him work his “Everybody Wants Some!!”, “Dazed and Confused” raunchy ensemble magic for “Olympic Village.” We’ll make the US Men’s Olympic Canoeing Team the focal point and then follow them as they settle into the village, from which we never leave, not for the Opening Ceremonies, not even for the events, as they find themselves locked in epic air hockey battles with rival American kayakers, get into under-cover-of-darkness hijinks with Lithuanian basketball players, get a little global perspective from Malawian fencers, skinny dip with Aruban swimmers, and, oh yes, make eyes, in a very respectful yet no less amorous way, with female Swedish handball players.

Michelle Smith

I understand that above I called for no movies about individual athletes and here I am listing a movie about an individual athlete. But allow me to explain. We, as a planet, need to have an honest and comprehensive discussion about doping, and not just about the athletic and political benefits and consequences. No, we need to have a talk about whether we are really concerned about the notion of fair play, or if it is merely, to quote the esteemed Charles Pierce, “moralistic flotsam and authoritarian jetsam”? This crossed my mind just the other day during the current Olympics, not only in the wake of American journalists going immediately all in on declaring Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu as a doping Satan in a swimsuit, but in a downright surreal moment during the women’s cycling road race when Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead was drafting off an equipment van leading the NBC commentator to note “Technically, this is illegal” like she was just jaywalking. What, I wondered, considering those two moments together, is the dividing line for our outrage? So I suggest a full scope doping doc, centered on Smith, an Irish swimmer, who won three Gold Medals at the Atlanta Olympics as well as a Bronze. Though she was the Toast of the Irish, she instantly became a pariah in America, where we were convinced the precipitous increase in her times could only mean doping. Did it? Maybe, maybe not (she did not test positive in Atlanta, but was found guilty of tampering with a drug sample a couple years later), but that is not what I am interested in. No, what am I interested in is the broader discussion of doping, and in particular, whether the euphoria Smith afforded her country in so many victories superseded all the rest, and whether, in the end, deep down in those places we do not talk about on Twitter, that is what matters most.

Untitled Athens Movie

Of the five, this is the least fleshed out, more an idea that a skillful lyrical filmmaker would need to run with, but still. You’ve probably come across those eerie photos of abandoned Olympic venues in the aftermath of the 2004 Summer Games in Athens and Greece’s subsequent economic tailspin. And maybe you know that indie film in Greece has been thriving, particularly in the case of the so-called Greek Weird Wave. I don’t know that we’d want to go that weird but I’m thinking Greek Weird Wave mixed with what Bill & Turner Ross have been doing in America with their dreamy drama/documentary hybrids, particularly “Tchoupitoulas”, which is what I’m really picturing as the inspiration for this movie. People in one form or another encountering these abandoned venues and ineffably tying it back to the inevitable ruin hosting an Olympic Games brings.

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