Visions of Eight Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: An Octathlon of Olympic Shorts

I’m not what you’d call an enthusiast of sports. Honestly, I don’t like, watch, or play sports. I’ve never been into them at all. However, I will watch movies and/or documentaries about them. There are plenty of movies and documentaries about sports and the athletes behind them. But I think the one that outdoes them all, and one that takes the grittiness of sports to the next level is 1973’s Visions of Eight, a pulsating and at times grueling look at the Munich Olympic Games of 1972.

The film consists of eight short films by eight renowned filmmakers, woven together to complete a full-length document of the event. Each filmmaker brought their own style and distinctive eye to any aspect of the Games of their choosing. The first film, The Beginning, was by Russian filmmaker Juri Ozerov, centering on the emotional, mental, physical preparing all the athletes that are participating in the Games. The second film, The Strongest, was by Swedish actress-turned-director Mai Zetterling, as she films the dramatic world of weightlifters. The third film, The Highest, by American filmmaker Arthur Penn, looks at pole vaulting and the graceful and often silent movements of it all. The fourth film, The Women, by German filmmaker Michael Pfleghar, gives much-needed recognition to female athletes and how they perform, generally at sports, not the just the Olympics. The fifth film, The Fastest, by Japanese filmmaker Kon Ichikawa, depicts in slow-motion, the “fastest humans” of the 100-meter dash. In this case, sometimes the fastest doesn’t always equal complete resilience. The sixth film, The Decathlon, by Czech filmmaker Milos Forman, musically centers on the what is considered the pinnacle of the Games, as athletes take their bodies to the limits of exhaustion. The seventh film, The Losers, by French filmmaker Claude Lelouch, is about Olympic losers and their struggle to remain poised and dignified in the face of defeat. The eighth and final film, The Longest, by British filmmaker John Schlesinger, is about the 26-mile marathon race told from the viewpoint of a single-minded runner, which juxtaposes footage of the terrorist attack on the Games, where 11 athletes, coaches, and a policeman where killed.

Despite the differences of each short film, the similarities are obvious. They all showcase athletes at a certain moment of their lives, where they may have something to prove, either to themselves or to everyone else. I love that the film never forgets that. I also admired the technique that each filmmaker brought to their films, giving them real-world qualities that most sport documentaries fail to full realize.

Originally apart of Criterion’s 100 Years of Olympics box set, the film was released recently on its own standalone Blu-ray and DVD editions. That’s a great thing, especially for film collectors who want their own copy without having to pay a hefty amount for the set. There are also a few worthwhile supplements that are included as well, like a new audio commentary by podcasters Amanda Dobbins, Sean Fennessey, and Chris Ryan of the Ringer website; new documentary featuring Lelouch, supervising editor Robert K. Lambert, Osumane Sembene biographer Samba Gadjigo, Munich Olympic Games historian David Clay Large, Mark Wopler (son of the film’s producer David L. Wolper), and Matthew Penn (son of Penn), which also includes outtakes from the film and material from Semebene’s unfinished short film (which was supposed to be included in the film, but didn’t come to fruition, especially after Semebene dropped out); short promotional film shot on location in 1972; and a trailer. There is also a booklet featuring a 1973 essay by author George Plimpton, excerpts from Wolper’s memoir, and a new reflection on the film by novelist Sam Lipsyte.

Initially, I was skeptical on reviewing this, but seeing it for the first time, I really did enjoy it. It’s not going to turn me onto actual sports (watching or playing them), but it allowed me to add a new, exciting title to my sports movie watchlist.


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