A beautifully shot, brilliantly scored, and wonderfully edited film. It turns out it’s enough for these to just be fun, and to enjoy the spectacle that is the Olympic games.

italy, 1961, italian


The Grand Olympics

This film isn’t immune to some of the common mistakes we’ve seen so far. It’s overly nationalistic, primarily concerned with the successes of Italian athletes. It’s sexist, and far too obsessed with winning. But, it continues the recent trend of being fun, and that makes such a huge difference. This is a film that moves, with its primarily jazz score, and gorgeous shots of the games, and of the city of Rome. Being fun has emerged for me as one of the best approaches to an Olympic documentary.

The other thing this film gets right is to show us quite a bit of the lives of the athletes at the games, when they aren’t competing. This is something I wish we’d see a lot more of in these films. These are superhuman performances, but they’re being done by people. It’s crazy none of these filmmakers have thought to spend more time exploring their lives at the games. What are they doing when they’re not competing? What’s the training like?

The other thing I’ll remember from this film, is the marathon. I’ve heard about this particular marathon forever. This is the one where Abebe Bikila won in world record time, without wearing shoes. I’m not sure where I first heard about this feat, it’s possible it was through my mother, who spent most of my childhood as a scholar of Ethiopian languages. She doesn’t care about sports though, so it seems more likely I encountered this incredible man somewhere else. No matter what, to get to see him running, it was an absolute pleasure.