Chariots of Fire

“The cinema was our academy and our cathedral,” John Osborne says (his Luther is partly derived from Irving Pichel’s film).

The significant presence of Lindsay Anderson is a cue for the pregnant construction of this film. Its two scenes that define it are Abrahams dining with the Masters of Trinity and Caius, and the Liddell sermon from Isaiah.

These are modeled respectively on the confrontation in Paths of Glory (Colonel Dax and General Broulard), and Father Mapple’s sermon in Moby Dick (the text is not Isaiah but Jonah).

The portrait of Liddell is an adaptation of Koster’s A Man Called Peter, about the Scottish minister who died preaching at Congress. Abrahams’ defiant speech on “the pursuit of excellence”, like Liddell’s reading of Isaiah, has been precipitately construed as a justification of the New World Order, Thomas L. Friedman’s “flat world”.

The particular nuance of Liddell’s sister calling him away to missionary work, and Abrahams’ Baudelairean fear of “ten lonely seconds to justify my whole existence”, have perhaps been overlooked in the adolescent hyperbole of individualism and utz that affect the Scotsman and the Jew, respectively. It all ends at the Olympics, which have seen better days.

The mise en scène is Russell (Women in Love) and Ross (Goodbye, Mr. Chips). To the formal dilemma no better satisfaction is offered than Blake’s “Jerusalem”. The Duke of Wellington would not have been nonplussed to hear Abrahams talk of Eton, nor would he necessarily do more after Liddell’s sermon on kings and judges and princes than count his spoons. Businessmen, however, the world over heard the voice of God telling them to kill and eat. The curious imperfection of memory in the screenplay may add up to this, and God has his scourges.

The 1984 Olympics tuned the tide of business, I met the man whose job it was (or so he said) to organize the closing ceremonies, he could not decide whether Holst’s “Jupiter” or Copland’s Appalachian Spring were better accompaniment for, as he put it, young people crying and hugging.

These things have a way of running their course, nowadays a Napoleon hat and a screwball look befit the imaginary tyrants of “world-class” anything, the phony criminal “pursuit of excellence” and the weary dodges of that fantastic brazen theme now gloriously writ in the annals of business by Lay & Skilling, whose simple con followed “call off the dogs” with “give us the money.”

The anti-Semitism of Cambridge dons makes them masters of utz after all, and the professionalism of Sam Mussabini sends a Dream Team of star professional basketball players to teach the world’s Olympians the meaning of sport. All this in the long ago and far away, before MBAs were a license to steal and the Olympic Games a crock, as witness David Watkin’s cinematography, a very useful thing.

Why should politics be replaced by gospel, Godard wants to know, history by technology?



Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes

Obviously a relation of Tarzan’s New York Adventure, this is a unique isolation of, say, the Buster Crabbe Tarzan’s raw intellectual brilliance as a quality in itself, at odds in Blighty. The performances are all lesser eminences to Richardson’s Everest, in which the personal touch that was his hallmark is seen to complete advantage.

The direction is capable of great skill, as when Tarzan chases D’Arnot’s carriage on foot and is ultimately left framed at the end of a tracking-out shot.