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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Track Movies

Today on NPR's Only A Game, host Bill Littlefield interviewed Ray Didinger about his Ultimate Book of Sports Movies. I haven't seen it yet, except for the table of contents, but it looks like he and coauthor Glen Macnow did their homework. The usual list of winners are here (Rocky, Hoosiers, Raging Bull) along with some cult classics (The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, Best In Show, Vision Quest).

There are only three track movies listed: two obvious choices (Chariots of Fire, Without Limits) and one not-so-well-known film, The Jericho Mile.

An issue brought up in the interview was the fact that pro athletes and coaches tended to list as their favorites movies that came from different sports. They said it was because they were too critical of the details in their sport that weren't right in a film, whereas they lacked that level of knowledge for other sports. I'd say this is definitely true for me with track films; for example, I can't bear to watch Mariel Hemingway in Personal Best (well, with her clothes on at least).

I've written before that I think Chariots of Fire is a very good film. What else would I rate near the top? In the non-documentary category...

1. Chariots of Fire
The best film made about track & field, and the action was very realistic as well. Bears repeated viewing, but not heavily.

2. College
This is a relatively short (66 minutes) silent film from 1927 starring Buster Keaton. He's a nerd who tries out for every sport in college, with hilariously awful results. Keaton's physical comedy and "Great Stone Face" is on fine display. The people who filmed this knew track & field.

3. On The Edge
Bruce Dern, a pretty darn good runner off-screen, plays an aging man trying to regain some semblance of his former glory in the only place where he could realistically outdo his past self: the Dipsea race. It has the most realistic running scenes I've yet seen.

4. Run, Fat Boy, Run
Maybe even funnier than College.

5. The Jericho Mile
The film is decent at best, the action scenes barely passable. but the backstory on how they made it is amazing. It was filmed at Folsom Prison (of Blues fame) and the three main prison gangs--Aryan Nation, Black Muslims, and Latin Kings--agreed to a truce during filming. They were extras and helped build the track in the film, which still exists some 30 years later.

Honorable Mention: Running Brave, Without Limits, Meatballs, The Four Minute Mile
Dreck: Prefontaine, Personal Best, The Long Run
Worst Track Movie Ever: Saint Ralph (good movie, unwatchable running)

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