Helsinki 1952

These are strikingly well-shot films, that are undermined by their persistent sexism, and xenophobia. It’s a shame, there is so much potential here, and it’s almost completely destroyed.

The three films that make up this edition of the Olympic games all feature the same positives. They are all beautifully filmed, showcasing the grandeur of the games at a level above previous entries. That’s not a small thing, and it’s really so wonderful to get to see everything that was happening so wonderfully preserved and well presented. It’s especially nice to have the third film, which is much shorter, but in color, as it provides so much enhancement to the two main entries. Unfortunately, that’s just about the only thing these films get right, and there’s several things they get so wrong.

The first of these is a fundamental misunderstanding of the point of the Olympic games. That this film is nationalistic is, at this point, to be expected. Almost all of these films have been nationalistic to varying degrees, and this one isn’t the worst. That it’s a fairly straightforward narrative, with little attempt to present the Olympics as anything other than a sporting competition, is unfortunate but hardly shocking. But that the film is entirely concerned with winning, to the point of admitting they ignore the established purpose of the games, is extremely annoying.

The films are also somewhat surprisingly sexist. I say surprisingly because the previous film also came out of Scandinavia, and was far more egalitarian. Going all the way back to the Olympics of Stockholm in 1912, the Nordic countries seemed ahead of others in the treatment of women. That this film, from Finland, didn’t match that experience, was all the more upsetting. I suppose I just expected better, and was sadly disappointed.

The other main issue is the offensively intense focus on race and skin color. Specifically on African-American race, and on dark skin colors. It’s omnipresent. Every mention of any African-American athlete features constant remarks about their skin color, and racial identity. The percentage of brown and black American athletes is commented on for every event. Interestingly, it was primarily American athletes the film dwelled on, prompting me to wonder if the filmmakers felt African-American, and to a lesser extent Japanese-American and Hawaiian-American athletes, were somehow less American than their European-American teammates. It’s weird, it’s offensive, and it ruined these films.