Rather than providing conventional historical contextualization or even straightforward reportage, this arty documentary project from megaproducer David L. Wolper lets eight internationally acclaimed filmmakers offer cinematic sketches of the Olympics, with the 1972 summer games in Munich as their canvas. The terrorist attacks that left 11 Israeli athletes dead receive only passing mention, not out of disrespect but rather because Wolper’s film was designed to celebrate timeless aspects of the Olympics. As with most anthology pictures, Visions of Eight is a hit-or-miss affair, but even the iffy sequences are imaginative, so as a total viewing experience, Visions of Eight is offbeat, unpredictable, and, just as Woper intended, inspirational. Given a clear shape thanks to well-crafted introductory and closing segments overseen by Mel Stewart (who directed Wolper’s beloved 1971 theatrical feature Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), the film moves gracefully between quasi-narrative sequences and experimental passages.
Yuri Ozerov’s “The Beginning” is among the merely serviceable vignettes. Mai Zetterling’s weight-lifting sequence “The Strongest” loses focus despite flashy cinematography and editing, because Zetterling drifts into random stats (Olympians ate 1.1 million eggs over the course of the ’72 games) and images of computers processing data. Infusing “The Decathalon” with his characteristically antiauthoritarian humor, Milos Forman juxtaposes pageantry with mundane details such as officials yawning between events, and he tips his hand by narrating, “I got to see the Olympics for free and had the best seats.” Arguably the best sequence is Claude Lelouch’s “The Losers,” which offers a poignant alternative to familiar views of triumphant athletes. Innovative Hollywood director Arthur Penn gets a bit carried away with “The Highest,” employing artsy audio drops, slow motion, and soft focus to transform high jumps into audiovisual abstractions, though it must be said that parts of “The Highest” are quite beautiful.
While Michael Pfleghar’s “The Women” and Kon Ichikawa’s “The Fastest” underwhelm, the former offers a look at celebrated gymnast Olga Korbut in her prime, and the latter celebrates its own technical complexity, since the narration for “The Fastest” explains how 24 cameras and 20,000 feet of film were used to record a 100-yard-dash in granular detail. The final segment, John Schlesinger’s “The Longest,” lives up to its title, offering a repetitive look at an English marathoner.
Still, Visions of Eight amply rewards the viewer’s attention. The best sequences are terrific, the cumulative abundance of atmosphere and information is impressive, and the license Wolper gave to his collaborators resulted in great stylistic variety. Never lost amid the directorial flourishes is the sincere theme of the piece, which has to do with extolling the values of achievement and community.
Visions of Eight: GROOVY