Chariots of Fire restored, the film by Hugh Hudson that surprised everyone and claimed 4 Oscars
Running to glory
It is remembered as a classic work and yet it is almost experimental
Eric Liddell was Scottish though born in China. The son of protestant missionaries, he too would grow up to be a missionary and eventually die in the land of his birth during the Second World War. Harold Abrahams, an Englishman of Jewish background, would become a successful business man like his father. What these two men had in common was the Paris Olympics of 1924, where the prior of the two won the 400 m sprint and the latter the 100 m. In the UK they are no less than national heroes, but to the rest of the world they are known thanks to the film Chariots of Fire (1981).
The film of then newcomer Hugh Hudson is coming out in blu-ray just as it has been restored. Exactly 30 years ago, it rose out of the blue and stole four Oscars, among them Best Picture, beating the much more acclaimed Reds by Warren Beatty.
It is remembered as an essential classic and yet, looking at it today, the film seems almost experimental. Though having the appearance of being a colossal production, it was, on the contrary, a rather small one. It met unexpected problems in distribution, not to mention the production's economic and time restraints. The film passes as patriotic even though the authorities and guardians of tradition are treated badly by the protagonists, which is something that rarely happens in a British film unless it is a comedy. Despite the philological care, in the end it is not so much an historical film as it is an apologue of spiritual values and those that inspire sports.... and the potential likeness between them.
From a story set in Cambridge during the twenties we would expect the utmost composure, and instead Hudson deconstructs the whole thing with an almost uninterrupted flow of close-ups and long-shots, slow motion, replays of the same moment from different angles and images that give the distinct impression of being the accompaniment of those beautiful and celebrated electronic sounds of Vangelis - an unusual and risky choice of soundtrack anyway – and not viceversa. In short, we find ourselves immersed in hyperrealist aesthetic that dominated the 80s, akin to the language of commercials and music videos. It's no coincidence that the director came out of the advertising industry, as well as documentaries. And it is no accident that the film, perhaps the most representative of that decade, should directly precede the film Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982), the product of another British director whose past was in advertising, and which was accompanied by music of the same Greek composer.
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