' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: One Light, One World (1992)

Friday, February 11, 2022

Friday's Old Fashioned: One Light, One World (1992)

The 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics were the first held in France since the Grenoble Games of 1968. Those were recounted in a pair of films, including Claude Lelouch’s “13 Days in France”, which is not merely my favorite Olympics documentary but one of my favorite movies period. It was wordless, dependent almost exclusively on music, editing, aesthetic. In “One Light, One World”, on the other hand, the hero of the Grenoble Olympics Jean Claude-Killy appears throughout in one of those sit-down, talking head interviews belying not only the monotonous tack that this movie takes but the disappointing, if not maddening, overall devolution of Olympics docs. Carlos Saura’s 1992 Summer Olympic movie was an arty exception, but by this point, his approach had become the outlier and the Albertville version the norm. Indeed, “One Light, One World” opens with an apologetic disclaimer of its own inconsistent visual quality, explaining the production was culled from 16mm film as well as standard definition video and images from television broadcasts. If Olympic athletes have continually pushed the boundaries of their respective sports, the accompanying Olympics movie have done the inverse, reducing themselves down to virtually nothing. 

The title “One Light, One World” evokes how, despite the French Alps setting, the movie is not French, either in language or style, directed by, as near as I can discern, a trio of Americans, none of whom have done much directing before or since. But the movie also manages to shoehorn in a bit about how politics have no place at the Olympics, brought home in a monologue by American bobsledder Herschel Walker citing the camaraderie of competitors at the Olympic village as the kind too often besmirched by the intrusion of affairs of various states. Mr. Walker, who finished seventh in the 2-man competition, had no idea what was coming 30 years later. The events themselves, generally recounted by switching between basic archival footage and talking head interviews, not only is less than thrilling but puts into perspective just how great Bud Greenspan was at this approach in his “16 Days of Glory” movies. If they were frequently (overly) epic in length (his movie on the 1988 Calgary Winter Games is nearly three and a half hours), he excelled at creating comprehensive and dramatic retellings with minimalist fuss. “One Light, One World”, on the other hand, is pared so far down it reduces its stories to mere highlight shows with little care of what makes the respective sport go. Bonnie Blair’s win in the 500m speed skating event feels like a condensed spot for the nightly news. The Gold and Silver Medal winning Austrian sisters Doris and Angelika Neuner in Women’s Luge mention the captivating nature of the sport’s speed though the movie is content simply to know this, unable to demonstrate what makes the speed captivating through movie language.

The narrator is the one note of distinction. If Greenspan utilized dry, just-the-facts narration of people like David Perry and Will Lyman, “One Light, One World” employs the voice of none other than the Movie Trailer Guy himself: Don LaFontaine. Perhaps at the time LaFontaine was not so much of a pop culture phenomenon, but his deep, dramatic voice was used to sell so many middling thrillers for the reason and its presence here is distracting. Undoubtedly, the words he is tasked with reading are of no help. “There is time to contemplate the ride ahead. And then there is no time…except to go.” That sounds like a bad movie trailer. It is better, though, than the abundance of inspirational platitudes, about “forever fuel(ing) the flame with their desire to be something more” and such, which broaches the territory of inadvertent self-parody. So does the musical score. All sleek, soulless synthesizers and drum loops, it sounds like leftover takes from some 80s video game. (Occasionally mixing the score with event play-by-play only furthers that sensation.) Alberto Tomba, La Bomba himself, the Italian slalom rock star whooshing down a mountain to such sonic dross is akin to Michael Jordan slam dunking in “Come Fly With Me” to the improbable sounds of Yanni. When the new sport of Freestyle Skiing is recounted, LaFontaine notes it was “Born out of the revolutionary American lifestyle of the 1960s.” I laughed out loud. Freestyle skiing might have been but “One Light, One World” was not. 

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