Criterion Collection, $39.95
OK, sports junkies, think you're tough? How about almost three hours' worth of amateur athletics from the 1964 summer Olympic Games, rendered as art film? Incredibly, Kon Ichikawa's beautiful, hypnotic, and mostly nonnarrative documentary was released here at 93 minutes in 1965. Predictably, Criterion has restored all 170 minutes to this single disc (July 30) with its usual immaculate transfer.
Since the project was sponsored by Japan's Olympic Commission, Ichikawa reportedly had 100 CinemaScope cameras at his disposal. How to make sense of the resulting 70 hours' worth of footage? In a 1992 interview contained on the DVD, he explains, "I didn't want to make a film that just documented the competitions." Instead his emphasis was on the individual athletes: "I was touched by their pure humanity . . . [as] human beings with a sense of purpose."
We see that purpose in the great Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila, who repeats his gold from Rome in '60—this time with shoes (Pumas, to be exact)—with implacable resolve. A Russian shot putter seems to suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder as he prepares to throw—feverishly shifting the shot, touching himself, and oddly folding the competition number on his jersey. Facing intense home-field pressure, a female Japanese hurdler places a lemon on her lane marker. Why? There's thankfully little narration in Olympiad to explain such things.
In his impressionistic montage approach, Ichikawa skips over most of the Games' big moments. His cameras often scan the crowd for cutaway shots of faces concerned, indifferent, and downright bored—as the athletes, between events, are often also revealed to be.
What else is in this week's DVD grab bag? There's video-game-based crap like Resident Evil (July 30); West Side Story wanna-be crap like Deuces Wild (Aug. 6); and a two-pack bargain set of Swingers and Made (July 23) for Vince Vaughn fans. Aug. 6 also greets the fine, frenetic, and oddly poignant '70s skateboard documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys; the businesswoman bitch-fest The Business of Strangers (with an excellent Stockard Channing); Ethan Hawke's ill-advised DV vanity project Chelsea Walls; the dumb-cop spoof Super Troopers; and Lord of the Rings Part I (the "special extended edition" of which arrives Nov. 12), with a 10-minute preview of Part II among many extras on two discs.