' ' Cinema Romantico: The Long Sad Look

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Long Sad Look

Sports. They're just the damnedest thing, aren't they? The Nebraska Cornhuskers - long before they became "my beloved Nebraska Cornhuskers" - loss to Missouri in 1978 was a game that stayed with then head coach Tom Osborne forever. He once remarked: "It's kind of strange, but sometimes you tend to remember the losses, the really hard losses, more than the national championships." But maybe it's not strange at all. Take Steve Prefontaine, arguably the greatest American distance runner of all time. The dude hardly ever lost. He never lost a race longer than a mile in his four year career at the University of Oregon. He was a mustachioed train. Yet the race that in so many ways defined his entire cut-short career on account of his terrible death at age 24, the race that I reckon Pre fanatics remember and reference most was his dramatic, awful, glorious defeat in the 5,000 meters in the Munich Olympics. I thought about this, as I do every year, a couple weekends ago when I yet again threw "Without Limits" into the DVD player to coincide with the Prefontaine Classic.

Donald Sutherland. Great actor. No, no, no. The word "great" is too simple-minded here. Let's consult the Emotional Thesaurus. Let's say Donald Sutherland is a meritorious actor. Meritorious, of course, implies deserving of reward, except that Donald Sutherland has never won an Oscar. That's seems a little strange, though maybe not crazy, but what is crazy is that Mr. Sutherland, as my friend Alex at And So It Begins documented last month, has never even been nominated for an Oscar. Yeesh. Maybe it sticks in his craw, maybe it doesn't, but still. And while I have often heaped deserved praise on the incomparable Billy Crudup for his work in "Without Limits" as Pre himself, Sutherland is his equal as Oregon's ex-track coach (and Nike Founder) Bill Bowerman.

It's a tempestuous relationship between those two. They're ornery dudes, after all, men of Oregon - born and raised - both. And as Bowerman once remarked about his ancestors who made the perilous Oregon Trail trek: "The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way. That just leaves us, doesn't it?" Sutherland encapsulates that sentiment in his gruff speaking voice and his towering posture. Pre may be a rock star but Bowerman is the coach. The two men consistently state their intentions and exchange fire. No one waves a white flag. This is never more evident than in the first scene they share after Pre has lost that race in Munich.

Pre: "If I'd gone out faster, I might not have gotten boxed."
Bowerman: "And you blame me?"
Pre: "Do you blame yourself?"

And it's there that Sutherland begins a master class in acting. He chuckles, and it's the crustiest chuckle you've ever heard, a chuckle that finds a twenty something's idea of emotional pain amusing because he has decades on his emotional pain odometer. And he says this: "That's a constant, Pre." And as he says it, he looks away to his right.

Well, you can see it all in there, can't you? You can see every loss and failure and embarrassment and what's more you can see Bowerman blaming himself for every single one of them. It's a whole life's memory of defeat summoned in a split-second, and then he re-gathers and moves on and continues the conversational skirmish.

But those defeats have merely been brought to bear once again. They won't go anywhere. They have not been purged. They never are.


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Alex Withrow said...

Shit man, I need to see Without Limits ASAP. It sounds great, and I just love looks like the one you're describing. I'm curious, what do you think about the film Prefontaine?

And thanks for the link man. So crazy that old Donald hasn't pulled out a nom.

Nick Prigge said...

You know, I admit I'm biased heavily toward Without Limits over Prefontaine. Although I think that less to do with the Crudup Factor than with the approaches. I feel like Prefontaine focuses more on the activist and Without Limits more on the person and I guess I just personally prefer the second approach.