It’s been quite a while since my last series of new-to-me classic films, hasn’t it? I guess when the fall semester started I lost a little steam with my project of watching all of those old classics I had never gotten around to seeing before. (Previous versions are here, here, and here.) Recently, though, I have been firing up the Netflix queue with a bunch of running-related films. My big race is coming up on Saturday so I figured it would be wise to get my fill of running movies when it counts!
Some of these are genuine classics, some are recent and haven’t yet stood the test of time. Others might never be classics. So it’s not really right of me to call this part of the classic movie project, but let’s just go with it anyway, okay?
Chariots of Fire
This movie is most definitely a classic — and I thought I had seen it before, but as I recently watched it, I realized I hadn’t. I think at some point in my youth I got the theme music in my head and connected it with a chariot race scene from maybe Ben Hur or something and conflated it all, believing I had seen Chariots of Fire. I know this movie received so much attention and acclaim, but for me it was just fair. I didn’t dislike it, but I did sort of dislike both of the protagonists. Abrahams seemed to do nothing but whine, while Liddell was just so effing sanctimonious. Not my kind of guys, really. And they were sprinters, so it figures. That scene on the beach with the theme song, though? Worth a watch for sure.
I had seen most, but not all of this movie one day when I was glued to the couch with the flu, the first spring I lived in Eugene. When I flipped to it on TV I realized they were at the UO, which caught my attention long enough to make me stick with the film. My memory of it was foggy, though, so I needed to see it again. What this movies has going for it: Ed O’Neill and Jared Leto (hel-lo there), beautiful Pacific Northwest landscape, and lots of great running scenes, especially the slow-mo ones where we can see Leto’s moneymakers all a-flex. The race finish at the Munich Olymipcs is just grueling to watch. I felt like I had run it myself, except of course for the fact that running 5000 meters in thirteen minutes still seems like some kind of cruel joke to me. The only thing I really didn’t like was the somewhat creepy scene where the hearse carrying the late Pre drives twelve laps around the track in 13:xx. It should have been poignant but came off as unpleasant at best. Otherwise, great. But wait, the movie wasn’t filmed in Eugene? That’s not the real Hayward Field?! Okay, let’s try this one again:
This version of the Prefontaine story stars Billy Crudup as the young superstar and was filmed in the real Eugene (TRACKTOWN U.S.A.!) at the real Hayward Field. It also features my friend Dangermoose’s brother as an extra. Can’t go wrong with that! I like most of the cast better, I think, but only slightly better. Donald Sutherland is sort of dark and strange as legendary coach Bill Bowerman, and I think he did a better job than R. Lee Ermey did in the above version. The soundtrack is better in this movie (exception: “Rocket Man” in the car scene) and they captured the rain and the coast the way I remember them — also plusses. The Munich Olympics race is just as heart pounding, but instead of rippling quads we get slow-mo wobbling cheeks and jowls. They really should have asked me about this.
Run, Fatboy, Run
Written by Michael Ian Black and Simon Pegg, this story about an unfit guy training for a marathon to win back the love of his ex seemed like it would be funny at least, even if not so inspiring when it comes to pure running. It was funny enough, I guess, but a lot of times they went for the easy gross-out humor. For example, there was a disgusting blister-popping scene, which is not only not my kind of humor but also, blisters are largely irrelevant in marathon training, in my opinion. Thandie Newton plays the love interest, and I have an irrational dislike of her ever since her brief stint on ER. No, I won’t explain it; it’s irrational. Anyway, even my affection for Simon Pegg and a great scene that visualizes “hitting the wall” at mile 20 couldn’t save this movie for me. I suppose Hank Azaria was OK.
Run for Your Life
This is a documentary about the life of Fred Lebow, the founder/director of the New York City Marathon. It was less about just running and had more to do with what it takes to build up a race, gain support, and form a community of runners in the city. I found that to be a lot more fascinating than it sounds, although if you aren’t interested in marathons and/or NYC, this movie may not hold your interest. I don’t know if I mentioned it here or not, but I entered the lottery to run in the NYC marathon in November 2011. While my chances of getting in are, I believe, pretty slim, I certainly enjoyed the fantasy of participating in that great race as I watched the film. One wonderful scene: because Lebow was race director, he didn’t get to run in his own race, being too busy with the back-end of the event. Instead, he ran several other races a year, traveling all over the world. At the end of the film, though, he finally gets a chance to run his own race. I won’t tell you how or why or what happens, but it was pretty moving.
I have loved this movie for years. It’s a bright, heart-pounding post-modern adventure with a great soundtrack. I’ve used a few of the tracks on past running mixes. Franka Potente is great, of course. Admit it: doesn’t this one make you want to dash out the door and just run somewhere?
Spirit of the Marathon
This is a great documentary about runners training for the Chicago Marathon. It follows elite runners Deena Kastor and Daniel Njenga, as well as several regular old amateurs like you and me. It’s really inspiring and I enjoyed it a lot when I first watched it as I was gearing up for my first half marathon in February. I haven’t actually re-watched it yet, but I plan to tomorrow night before I leave town for my next race.
Am I missing any great running movies? Do you have any favorite sports movies?