Monday, January 24, 2011
CHARIOTS OF FIRE
(March 1981, U.S.)
For this post, I'm going to do something I haven't done before, nor am I likely to do again, and that is start off with my favorite line or dialogue:
Lord Andrew Lindsay: "Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honoured in their generations and were a glory in their days. We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams. To honour the legend. Now there are just two of us - young Aubrey Montague and myself - who can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels..."
With those opening words, the camera disolves into that famous sequence of spirited young men running along the shoreline of the beach accompanied by Vangelis' world-famous score to CHARIOTS OF FIRE - a scene that not only made the film popular from the beginning, but inevitably became of source of film parody for years to come.
It seems as thought CHARIOTS OF FIRE was a part of my life for two years before I even saw the film on HBO in 1983. My family had the soundtrack record (that's right, I said RECORD!) and it was played over and over and over again to the point of violent night sweat! Naturally, because the rest of my family loved the music, I felt compelled to dislike it. That wouldn't last. Anyone who's heard that score or any other by Vangelis is likely to fall victim to his musical brilliance in a very short time. If CHARIOTS OF FIRE doesn't convince you, try listening to BLADE RUNNER (1982) instead.
But now let's talk about the film itself. It's a British sports film that tells the fact-based story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. The sports element seems quick and repetitive, as there are several Olympic track events that take place and provoke the viewer into a cheering reaction more than once. The slow motion camera shots that occur at the point of victory only serve to help the spirit of the film and the personal spirit the film can lift in your own soul. Sounds cliche, yes, but this is what can happen when a film of this sort works so well. These men who race against each other are also filled with a strong sense of honor and pride, not only for themselves, but for country, king and God himself. These emotions are not only seeminly definitive of the time of 1924 Great Britian, but perhaps an example of what there is so little of in modern sports competition today.
One of the more interesting personal considerations about this film is that I truly believe that a major studio like Warner Brothers would never have the balls to back a motion picture like CHARIOTS OF FIRE today. It's a strong character-driven film with very little speed, despite being a sports film. It's a quiet, almost unassuming British film with young actors who were complete unknowns at the time. Today, an intelligent film of this quality would very likely only be released as an underground independent film. A very sad state of affairs for the modern film studio!
CHARIOTS OF FIRE won the Oscar for best picture of 1981. It practically came out of nowhere and shocked everyone by beating out such strong competitors as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and REDS. And as it turns out, the film is thirty years old this coming March 2011. Happy Birthday!