31 October 2004 | directoroffantasies
End of an Era
The 1972 Summer Olympic Games, in many ways, were the end of an era. Since 1936, the IOC had required each Local Organizing Committee to submit a documentary film as an historical record of their Games. After Munich, less emphasis was placed upon this and more upon Bud Greenspan's independent efforts. Only one-eighth of this film was directed by a West German; today, an American helms them all.
Munich '72 was the last occasion on which Olympic security could be said to be at all relaxed. The face of terrorism, at least before 9/11, bears the stocking mask of the Black September lookout at 31 Connollystrasse in the Olympic Village. John Schlesinger of "Midnight Cowboy" fame, assigned to film a British marathon runner, incorporates the tragedy into his mini-film as a distraction to the absurdly detached athlete.
After 1936 they all were imitating Leni Riefenstahl. Here, Japanese director Kon Ichikawa, filming his second Olympics, rings a change on the German's pioneering use of slow motion, using three dozen Arriflexes and four miles of film to turn the 100-meter dash into a quarter-hour examination of tortured lungs and leg muscles.
Producer David Wolper's take on this film was that it could have been better and was greatly improved in the editing room. The same could be said of any slice-of-life documentary, sporting or otherwise. The voice-over narrator sounds a lot like David Perry, who would soon become ubiquitous as Bud Greenspan's offscreen announcer. For almost the final time, feature directors got to play documentarian all those years ago.