Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 28 May 2006 05:13:01 -0400

Moving Pictures


(rerun from May 2000 RC)

I blame the oversight on being a word guy. I've never had anything to do with the illustrations and layout of my work, only with the words, so my thoughts on the visual are few.

Rich Benyo is more versatile. My partner on the Running Encyclopedia book, being written in 2000, noticed that the master list I'd compiled had reached thousands of entries but never once mentioned running movies.

Now they're in the book, and the list of those that fit within our limits -- including racing scenes from road events, 5K to marathon -- is short. Outside these boundaries lie those with running titles ("The Running Man," an Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller, and "Marathon Man," a look at sadistic dentistry) but which are about this sport in name only.

Also missing from the book are the "Without Limits" and "Prefontaine," since Pre was never a road racer. "Personal Best" is a track film with marathoner Kenny Moore playing another brand of athlete, a swimmer. The 1960s classic "Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" is only marginally about running, and not very long at that.

In the maybe category fall "On the Edge," whose Dipsea-like race runs partly on the roads and whose cast includes several road racers. "Running Brave" has no footage of Billy Mills's anticlimactic Olympic Marathon, which he ran after winning the 10,000.

The fictional movies with road racing at their heart are mostly forgettable. Joanne Woodward in "See How She Runs," Michael Douglas in "Running," Ryan O'Neal in "The Games" -- come across as actors trying and failing to look like runners. They lack The Look.

The videos I like best are the real ones. I much prefer the Steve Prefontaine documentary that Kenny Moore co-authored, "Fire on the Track," to either of the theatrical productions.

"Endurance" is a true story, with Haile Gebrselassie playing himself. In an unintentionally comical scene he pretends to be a novice marathoner and almost trips over his feet at six-minute-mile pace.

Best of the lot are the various Olympic films, because real runners run real races. Setting a high early standard was director Leni Reifenstahl with her "Olympia," an almost-four-hour look at the 1936 Games.

Bud Greenspan directed the 1984 Olympic summary, "Sixteen Days of Glory." The Munich Games report, "Visions of Eight" (the combined effort of eight directors), carries memorable footage of Frank Shorter's marathon victory.

Nothing I've ever watched on screen was as memorable as the marathon in "Tokyo Olympiad" by Kon Ichikawa. The late-race, slow-motion closeups of an apparently tireless Abebe Bikila give a look into the face of this sport's African future.

UPDATE. Since this writing, runners-on-film (or videotape, or DVD) have found their best friend ever in Mark Hale-Brown. He manages the website, which describes more than 650 titles. A must-see is the recent Canadian production, "St. Ralph," about a 14-year-old marathoner. Sadly, the Running Encyclopedia that I co-wrote with Rich Benyo passed out of print this spring.

Previous Posts