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7/10
Bud Greenspan applies his formula to the Athens games
29 January 2020
Bud Greenspan directed many of the Olympics documentaries and people either like his approach to the subject or they don't. I enjoy his movies but people who enjoy a more idiosyncratic touch may want to stay away. Rather than try to cover the entire event, Greenspan (or at least in the movies of his that I have seen) just covers a handful of events, focusing on one or two of the athletes and giving their backstories. In this movie, he focuses on the following athletes and events: Sada Jacobson and Mariel Zagunis (women's fencing), Pyrros Dimas (weight lifting), Otylia Jedrzejczak (swimming), Hicham El Guerrouj (track) Lisa Fernandez (women's softball) and Australian sisters Kerrie and Anna Meares (time trial bike track racing.) Some other events are covered briefly as are the opening ceremonies.
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6/10
Slight comedy from the early years of Czech cinema
25 January 2020
Long Live With Dearly Departed is a Czech comedy directed and co-written by Martin Fric. (I'm not sure why it has such a horribly translated title--I saw the movie referred to once somewhere as Long Live the Dead, which is much better.) The plot concerns a young playboy who lives only to drink, gamble and spend his uncle's money. His life gets complicated when a hospital mistakenly informs him that he only has 24 hours to live. It is the type of plot that can make for a good screwball comedy and this movie seems to be aiming in that general direction. But the pacing is too slow and while there are some amusing moments, the antics never reach the level of hilarity. The movie is mainly a vehicle for star Hugo Haas, which isn't surprising since he co-wrote it. Most of the other characters are there to serve as props or plot developments, with the exception of the actor who plays Baltazar, the manservant, who gets some nice comic moments of his own
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7/10
Solid Olympics Documentary
22 January 2020
The Everlasting Flame is the official documentary of the 2008 Summer Olympics, which were held in Beijing. The movie takes two approaches towards documenting the games. The first is to highlight a handful of athletes: Thomasz Wylenzek (Germany, canoeing), Kyle Bennett (USA, BMX racing), Haile Gebreselassie (Ethiopia, 10K race), Usain Bolt & Asafa Powell (Jamaica, track) and Hadi Saei & Sara Khosjamal Fekri (Iran, Taekwondo). These athletes are shown training at home and special attention is paid to their events. The women's gymnastics events are also given detailed treatment. All of the rest of the events are covered in snippets and montages, which is a shame, but given the number of events, understandable. The opening ceremonies, directed by Zhang Jimou, are also given an in depth look, although they were so beautiful, I could have watched a whole movie about them.
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Late Season (1967)
8/10
Tragi-comic look at guilt and memory
3 January 2020
Set during the Israeli trials of Adolph Eichmann, Late Season is a story about how ordinary Hungarians became complicit in the Holocaust and its continuing effects on the country a couple decades later. A stylishly experimental film, its tones veer between broad comedy and horror. The story is about a prank played by a group of elderly roustabouts that leads to man's confrontation with his actions during World War II. This seems like an odd subject to laugh about and the comedy does not always work. But the story, once it gets going, is absolutely riveting, and there are moments when it is genuinely funny. Fabri, the director, performs a lot of tricks, some of which work better than others. Various moments are sped up in an attempt to heighten the comedy (was there ever a time when people found sped up action funny? even in the silent era?) and there are a lot of freeze frames and cut shots. The sound direction is more successful. The soundtrack is spare and haunting and there are moments when individual noises are isolated on the track to heighten suspense. Not a perfect movie, but close enough to be essential viewing.
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7/10
Interesting anthology film
2 January 2020
To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Strand Releasing asked a number of directors create a short film on their iPhones. The result is a collection of 35 films ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Anthology movies almost as a rule are inconsistent and this one is certainly no exception and the films featured here are hampered by the time limitation. But that limitation is also a boon because if there is any film you don't like, you just have to wait a minute or two for the next one. The styles of these 35 films are all over the place. Most are experimental. Only 2 directors attempted straightforward narratives. Some are essays on the nature of film and some are just directors playing with special effects. Best in show has to go to Tommy O'Haver for his song celebrating gay directors. Worth watching if you have an hour to spare.
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5/10
Like watching two half-time shows
30 December 2019
Beyond All Barriers is an Olympics documentary that has virtually no athletics in it. Other than a five minute montage in the middle, this movie just documents the opening and closing ceremonies of the Seoul Olympics in 1988. It looks like the film makers were operating under some restraints as there does not appear to be any cameras on the field, giving most of the action a very remote feel. A very talented director might have found a way around these limitations but that is not the case here. Almost all of the shots are mid to long shots, with almost no close ups to heighten the action. The result is that the viewer feels he is in stands (and very high up at that) rather than getting a front row view. Which is a shame, because the events in the ceremonies look pretty impressive. A missed opportunity.
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6/10
AN OK Olympics documentary, but oh, that music
29 December 2019
O Sport, You Are Peace! is a documentary about the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow. This Olympiad was significant for two reasons: it was the fist held behind the Iron Curtain, and as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the games were boycotted by 66 countries (including the United States.) This movie, for the most part, is a pretty standard Olympics documentary. The first half hour is devoted to the set up of the games and the opening ceremony. There is also some cute animation about the history of the Olympics. The coverage of the events has some nice cinematography but seems a little haphazard. A couple events are covered in depth (such as the marathon and women's gymnastics) but most events are rushed through so fast that it is hard to get a sense of who is competing. My biggest objections to the movie though are the narration and the music, both of which are treacly and annoying. But if you can concentrate on just the visuals, this movie is worth watching.
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Atlanta's Olympic Glory (1997 TV Movie)
8/10
Solid documentation of the 1996 Summer Olympics
25 December 2019
I have read some grumbling about Bud Greenspan's method of making Olympics documentaries. This is the first one of his movies I have seen, and while I can understand some people's objections, I cannot really agree with them. I have seen a number of other Olympics documentaries, and while some can be called artistic masterpieces, most fall well short of that. Many of the earlier documentaries show footage of the events but give very little context. The footage may be exciting but there is little human interest. Greenspan (at least in this movie--I can only assume his other movies follow the same template) concentrates on only a dozen or so events, and then singles out an athlete or two from the event and gives their back story. I imagine some people would get frustrated at the sameness of this approach, but it kept my interest throughout the 3 1/2 hour run time. I even got caught up in the suspense of each event even though the outcomes were rarely in doubt. I suppose this approach would seem formulaic after seeing a few of his movies, but if a formula works, why change it?
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6/10
The young revolt against the old while on summer vacation
18 December 2019
Boyfriend In Sight is about a group of bourgeosie families who spend a summer vacation near the end of World War I on a beach. A generation gap quickly develops between a rowdy group of teenagers and the adults when one of the girls is forbidden by her relatives to play with her friends any more. The movie has a large cast of characters and they are all lovingly mocked by the director. There are plentiful gags in the movie and even though few of them are that funny, the movie still exerts a lot of charm.
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7/10
Science as abstract art
9 December 2019
Crystallization is a short educational film that purports to show various substances during the process of becoming crystals. There is a very short introduction which discusses crystals and the various types of matter, but the bulk of the film consists of shots of crystallization set to a groovy, old school synthesizer score. The shots are pretty and watching them is a pleasant way of spending 11 minutes. My only comment is that a couple shots looked suspiciously fake to me. However, I can't think of any reason to doubt the film's assertion that these are real shots, so I guess I'm going to have to accept the fact hat sometimes nature genuinely looks like bad computer animation.
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5/10
Satirical commentary of the Viet Nam War
8 December 2019
Time and Fortune Vietnam Newsreel is a four minute satire on the United States's involvement in the Viet Nam War. The film pretends tobe a Time-Fortune March of Time newsreel and mostly consists of shaky footage of Adolfas Mekas (the director's brother) pretending to be the prime minister of Lapland making statement to various members of the media. In his speech, he decries America's fiscal mismanagement of the war and has a modest proposal to make it for efficient and cheaper. There is also some found footage interspersed throughout the film, including some disturbing images from an abattoir that remind the viewer of the horrors of the war. Pretty much a one joke movie. I didn't find the joke particularly funny and thus found the film rather lacking overall.
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6/10
Workmanlike Olimpics documentary
3 December 2019
Sapporo Winter Olympics is directed by Masahiro Shinoda, the director of the classic movies Double Suicide and Silence, among many others. Many of his movies are beautiful visually and play with established structures. So I came into this movie with high expectations--maybe too high. It is not a bad movie by any means. An Olympics documentary exists to document the events and this movie does an adequate job of that. A couple events (the men's cross country and 90 meter ski jump, for instance) get long and interesting examinations. But there are times in the second half of the movie when Shinoda seems bored with the assignment. 7 events are given 90 seconds or less while shots of athletes eating or sightseeing are given more time. And given the location and Shinoda's eye I was surprised there wasn't more scenery, although what little is shown is beautiful. Overall, a mixed bag.
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6/10
Interesting story told with non-realted visuals
25 November 2019
Interesting short subject in which a young woman narrates the story of her parents and her upbringing. The story is illustrated with footage from other movies. The not quite relevant footage both brings the viewer into the story and distances them from it. An interesting experiment.
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6/10
More of a behind the scenes look than anything else
14 November 2019
There were two documentaries made of the 1968 Winter Olympics: Snows of Grenoble (which was the official documentary) and this one, which was a promotional movie sponsored by Coca-Cola. I'm assuming that the film makers did not have the same access, because there is more behind the scenes footage than there is of the competitions. The opening ceremony (and the preparations leading up to them) alone takes up almost a quarter of the movie. There are lots of shots of athletes relaxing and eating, often with a Coke. There is also footage of related cultural events, such as a modern dance recital and a rock concert featuring (I believe) Johnny Hallyday. It's an interesting movie but anyone who is only interested in the athletic aspect of the Olympics which be better off just watching Snows of Grenoble.
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6/10
A French-centric look at the 1968 Winter Olympics
14 November 2019
There were two documentaries made of the 1968 Winter Olympics: this one, which was the official one, and 13 Days in France, which was unofficial. This movie does a better job of the two of documenting the events, although it is not perfect in that regard. The men and women's skiing events get detailed treatment. The athletes are identified and a little effort is made to build suspense of the events. And, of course, Jean-Claude Killy is given lots of coverage since he became a national hero. Peggy Fleming and a Russian couple's complete skating routines are shown, although that is it for figure skating except for some random shots of people speed skating and practicing. All of the other events are covered rather casually, often as frantic montages.
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Traviata '53 (1953)
6/10
Poor boy falls in love with kept woman
6 October 2019
Traviata 53 is a contemporary (as of 1953) retelling of the Verdi opera Traviata, and by extension, the Dumas novel Camille. In this version of the tale, the boy is a poor (read: solidly middle class) engineer named Carlo who falls in love with Rita, a woman with a shady past who is the mistress of a rich banker. Will they be able to find happiness together? The story is as old as the hills but the movie is not without interest. Carlo is a stiff but it is really Rita's movie and Barbara Laage gives a fine performance. And while the direction is not particularly distinguished, the sets and costumes are exquisite, making the movie a joy to look at.
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Farewell (1968)
6/10
Product of its place and time
13 September 2019
During the 60s, there were many films made about alienated young men. Abschied (Farewell) is another film in that genre, but this one has the distinction of being made in East Germany, a country where you would not imagine a movie celebrating non-conformity would be made. The film was based on a famous German novel which might explain how it got made. (Although it ended up being unofficially banned.) Also, the society the lead character is rebelling about is Germany in the years leading up to the first World War. Hans Gastl is the son of a prominent prosecutor but the bullying and hypocrisy of his father and the other adults around him sicken him and he drifts into a life of petty crime. Will some new found friends save him from the road to ruin with their talk of socialism and Karl Marx? Abschied is a visually striking film, with many shots and editing tricks that owe a debt to the French New Wave movies of its time. I was rather bothered by the anachronistic look of the film--despite being set in the 1910s, everyone looks like they just stepped out of a 60s fashion magazine. But that's a minor complaint, which probably bothers me more than it will most people. Overall, it is an interesting movie.
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6/10
Average Olympics documentary
31 August 2019
I have seen about ten Olympics documentaries now and People, Hopes, Medals is neither among the best nor the worst of them. As a documentary, the movie does its job. The events are competently filmed, so you get a sense of what the events were like and who won. I personally found the narration by the two German commentators rather grating, especially when they tried to be funny. (I was particularly appalled when they kept making fun of one poor Korean athlete.) I thought the music was a little too jaunty and the film makers used the same bit of music over and over for each entrant in an event. Which meant that by the end of an event I would be thoroughly sick of hearing that piece. But overall, it is hard to make a truly bad movie about the Olympics as it is always fun to watch athletes at the top of their game compete and People, Hopes, Medals, as relentlessly average as it is, is no exception to that rule.
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5/10
No commentary, no context, great cinematography and horrible music
28 August 2019
Olympic Spirit takes a different tack than most of the other Olympics documentaries I have seen. For one thing, it is a short movie rather than a feature. Also, it does without any narration, so no attempt is made to put anything in context. No athletes or even countries are identified. (The US hockey team is clearly identified both by their jerseys and the crowd chanting "USA!" but all the other athletes remain completely anonymous.) The shots of the events are grouped together but there is no attempt to build any narrative around them. Instead, the shots appear to be picked for maximum visual appeal and they are pieced together at such a dizzying pace that the whole event approaches abstract art. There is nothing wrong with this approach but it becomes rather dull after a while and it is hard to sustain interest even for 30 minutes. Add to this a truly wretched 70s style progressive rock soundtrack and a glaringly obvious bit of product placement for Coca-Cola (one of the sponsors of the movie) and you end up with what is essentially a second rate, and overlong, music video.
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Fit (1994)
6/10
A surrealist look at the day of the life of a young woman
25 August 2019
The Fit is a student film made by the director Athina Rachel Tsangari. It is a look at the thoughts and experiences of a young woman, identified only as Lizzie. She has a dream, she wakes up, has breakfast and leaves the house, while a narrator describes what is going in her head. Nothing is going quite right and the movie uses various special effects to give Lizzie's problems a surrealist edge. The movie has an unpolished edge, but that just adds to its charm. Worth watching.
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5/10
A perfunctory movie about an odd Olympic event
13 August 2019
The 1956 Summer Olympics were held in Melbourne Australia, but due to their animal quarantine laws (the same ones that were to get Johnny Depp in trouble decades later) the equestrian events could not be held there. So a mini Olympics featuring just the events involving horses were held months earlier in Stockholm. This short Swedish film is the document of those events. I suppose it is theoretically possible to make an interesting movie about equestrian sports, but this isn't that movie. The main problem with it is that the narrator talks non-stop through it. If the viewer can understand Swedish, this might not me a problem, but for everyone else, it means non-stop subtitles, which make it hard to ever take in the visuals. Snippets of the events are presented but they are so brief that it is hard to feel engaged with anything that is happening.
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White Vertigo (1956)
6/10
Slightly above average Olympics documentary
7 August 2019
There are a few Olympics documentaries that are the gold standard for the genre (notably Olympiad and Tokyo Olympiad.) And there are some that are just adequate, being nothing more than just filmed recordings of the events. White Vertigo, the documentary about the 1956 Winter Olympics held in Cortina d'Ampezzo Italy, falls solidly between those two camps. The color cinematography is flat out gorgeous and the movie takes some interesting looks behind the scenes. But the coverage itself is fairly rote with little suspense generated--with the exception of the downhill ski racing event near the end of the movie, which is expertly handled. In short, there is little reason to seek this movie out, but if it presented to you, there is no reason not to watch it either.
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The Above (2015)
9/10
Eye in the Sky
5 July 2019
The Above is about a mysterious American military blimp that floats above Kabul in Afghanistan. The first three fourths of this short movie are taken up with either shots of it or of bird's eye shots (presumably taken by drone) of everyday life in Kabul. But then the setting changes...There are some intertitles that raise questions about the purpose of the blimp without giving any definitive answers. A strikingly beautiful and ominous experience.
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Wozzeck (1947)
6/10
Heavy handed adaptation of a great play
2 July 2019
This is the first of apparently many movie adaptations of Georg Buchner's classic play Woyzeck, which is about a poor soldier who is driven insane by the people around him. Made in East Germany shortly after World War II, the movie seems heavily infused with the Communist party line. In this movie, it is more society's obsession with money than anything that causes Wozzeck to lose his sanity. And in case there was anyone who didn't get the point, the movie added the author Buchner as a character in his own story to hammer away at this theme during various times during the movie. There are a few evocative scenes (particularly the ones at a fair and by a swampy lake) but many of the scenes are dull and overlong and the movie rarely matches the deliriousness of the play.
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5/10
Proof that not all Olympics documentaries are created equal
1 July 2019
Fight Without Hate is a documentary about the 5th Winter Olympics, held in St. Moritz Switzerland in 1948. Historically, this was a significant event as they were the first Olympic games held in 12 years. Tensions were still high from World War II and as a result, Germany and Japan were not invited to participate and Russia sat it out.

One would think that the makers of the film would capitalize on this subtext but it is barely referenced at all other than a bit of narration at the end of the movie (which is where the movie's title comes from.) In fact, the makers of the movie seem strangely uninterested in anything related to the games. Most of the events are indifferently filmed, with the athletes sometimes seemingly randomly selected. (There are a couple exceptions to this, the most notable ones being a couple hockey games and the men's ski jump.) This problem is aggravated by the utterly bizarre narration. It would appear that the film makers were worried that the viewers would find the games as boring as they apparently did, so they added multiple bits of "comedy relief." The narrator is frequently interrupted by his wife who is constantly hectoring him for money to buy clothes with and another man who has wandered into the booth to flirt with the wife. The result is that the narrator spends half of the movie making jokes about the fickleness of women. When he does get around to describing the events, he is prone to make comments on the appearances of the female athletes.

Some of the material is thrilling despite the way it is presented, but mostly the movie is flat. One notable exception is the treatment of figure skating near the end of the movie which uses trick photography and editing to turn the event into abstract art. You won't learn too much about the competitors, but it is pleasing to the eyes.
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