Finally I watched it, after years of knowing it, and months of recording it on DVR.

And I can’t wait another minute to write about it. Thank god tomorrow (er, today) is Thanksgiving.

I think it was one of the earliest western movies semi-publicly shown in China in the 80’s, so I’ve known its name for a long time. Fortunately I only knew one spoiler, that a runner gave up an Olympic event due to his religion and won another, so up until the scene where Liddell learned about the Sunday heat (actually he knew months ago and trained specifically for 400m and earned his spot), I thought it was Abrahams who gave up something on Saturday.

I knew Vangelis from some songs from his collaboration with Yes’s Jon Anderson (mostly from the 1981 album The Friends of Mr. Cairo, in the same year as the movie). I can probably write a full post about that, but basically those were among the first rock (in a general sense) songs I’d ever heard, and they just blew my mind wide open. “Outside of This (Inside of That)” is still one of my favorites to date. And the super long (12’04) and winding title song was like a complete short film. And I can still hear the ocean wave in Mayflower now when I close my eyes, which I played during a family gathering when we made dumplings together and was ridiculed (on the same tape I had Genesis’s Domino, and someone commented “is that what they called the Screaming Rock Star?”). Oh, and I couldn’t believe it when I found out after many years that the singer is a man.

Anyhow. The movie theme song is one of those modern classics that have been so abused that hearing it would almost cause instant nausea, but it really serves the movie well. And I’m surprised that Vangelis did the whole song track (except those hymns, of course), which must be a first in movie history, blasting the way for cheap synth into pop culture (followed by the Beverly Hills Cop theme). By “cheap” I mean the cheapest keyboard can do it now, but it certainly was beyond everyone’s imagination back then.

I think I read somewhere that the movie is considered a milestone for modern sports movies. The script is very well written (deserving its Oscar) with the interleaved and contrasting paths of two great athletes. The movie is very well paced, in 80’s standard at least. And all the slow mo’s actually aren’t that sickeningly cliche, for example the 100m final goes in real time in the first play, and slow mo’ed a few short times afterwards, just like a real TV broadcast nowadays.

Other interesting tidbits:

  • In the opening scene when they ran to the Carlton Hotel (J noticed the name; in real life it’s a student residence hall) in the distance, I said “that looks like St. Andrews”. Lo and behold, it is actually filmed there. And most of the runners in the scene are caddies there.
  • I couldn’t understand most of the dialog in the beginning due to the English and Scottish accent, and that I couldn’t turn up the volume since baby is sleeping. So the first half was quite confusing as I couldn’t understand how the two runners are related until Abrahams watched Liddell winning the 400m after falling down.
  • I can’t believe Liddell’s story isn’t more known in China (especially this year), since he is the first Chinese-born Olympic gold medalist and he dedicated the second half of his life to Chinese people. (Actually I completely understand why: he’s a missionary. Religion is poison, isn’t.) He was born in a missionary family in Tianjin, died in a internment camp in 潍坊, and buried in the same cemetery along with Norman Bethune and Dwarkanath Kotnis.
  • Sam Mussabini is a very successful coach. He coached Olympic gold medalists in 1908, 12, and 20 games, so Abrahams in 24 would be almost like a routine for him. So his emotional celebration in the movie is probably another nice fabrication.
  • When the Americans appear in the Olympics, I was wondering how many stars the flags have (should be 48). Wikipedia and IMDb say the flags in the movie all have 50 stars.
  • In real life, the text from the Bible was handed to Eric Liddell by a coach on the US team, not by Jackson Scholz, who actually won the 200m (Liddell won bronze, and Abrahams was last in final).
  • I thought the scene in a church where Liddell gave signature to a young girl was odd, because I thought Jennie was his wife (she’s his sister), so it’s completely against his religious conviction to flurt with a girl in front of his wife. IMDb says that a scene was cut where he courts the same girl in Paris, and she is from Canada, as is Liddell’s real life wife.
  • I suppose the Paris Olympics scenes are pretty accurate. What a contrast with Beijing 2008! The stadium is smaller than a high school football field. There’s no show or firework. And the runners have to dig their own holes at starting line.
  • The rather conspicuous Lipton Tea sign (the only one) in the stadium for the 100m may be a sign of commercialization, just like the fact that Abrahams used a professional coach, of which the Cambridge guys accused him, is probably a sign of the death of amateurism in Olympics.