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Classic Film Review: Chariots of Fire

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Worthy Winners 

Given that Fire is such an unashamedly romantic evocation of Britishness and everything it’s thought to represent, though in reality the fun of being a Briton is that nobody really knows, it must stick in the gut of Hudson and company, that the film has nothing to touch the magisterial and technically innovative representation of Olympic sport offered by Nazi filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl, in Olympia, her record of the 1936 games.

We must be content with the stuffy reserve of it all. What else is there really? There’s no getting away from it; for a film about running it’s lethargically paced. Was that deliberate, I wonder? A sort of joke? All concerned must thank Vangelis a million times and three; his electronic compositions provide the magic, and indeed the sense of movement, that the perfunctory editing manifestly lacks. Thanks to that infamous synth and heartbeat rhythm, the production’s one magnificent risk, you can sense the majesty of competition; feel the forward momentum, even if you can’t see it. Vangelis was the secret weapon that Riefenstahl didn’t have, but in all other respects you watch the unimaginative slow motion shots of gurning men cutting through tape and wish that Hudson had had the guts to ape her best ideas. What stopped him? Was it a lack of imagination, or fear that a celebration of British achievements might be undermined if it came to light he was using a Nazi template? I don’t think critics would have balked; look at the way they’ve lapped up the 2012 torch rally (© Berlin 1936).

London 2012, with its plan for a bucolic opening, is set to trade on the same association with William Blake that gives Chariots of Fire its quasi-mythical grounding. In choosing the old hymn as neat shorthand, the producers weren’t being as crude as we might imagine. Jerusalem’s the best choice when you consider both the Christian and Jewish connotations. This, after all, is a story about representatives of these two faiths, representing us; it’s God and country and which of the two is more important during the Olympic fortnight.

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Director: Hugh Hudson

Country:  UK

Year: 1981

Running Time: 124 mins


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