The 1972 Olympic Games are most remembered for the Munich massacre, during which Palestinian terrorists murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Village. That event overshadowed the sporting events, which were chronicled as part of a project that became Visions of Eight, an omnibus film featuring short documentaries by notable filmmakers about the 1972 Olympics. I don’t care that much about the Olympics. I enjoyed Visions of Eight.
Each filmmaker takes a different perspective on the games, and each of their films are titled as such. Yuri Ozerov directed The Beginning, which sets the time and place. Mai Zetterling directed The Strongest, which is one of the better shorts, a sort of awe-struck meditation on the pressures and routines of professional weightlifters. Arthur Penn’s short is The Highest, which captures pole vaulters in slow-motion action, a visual which reminds viewers that human beings are not particularly aerodynamic. Michael Pfleghar directed The Women, Kon Ichikawa helmed The Fastest, and Miloš Forman made The Decathlon. Perhaps the most well-regarded is Claude Lelouch’s The Losers, which focuses on intimate footage of men and women who came so far only to find their skills wanting in the final measure. The swimmers, in particular, are upsetting to watch. Lastly, John Schlesinger closes the Games with the only portion to detail the Massacre’s impact on the athletes and the games themselves in The Longest.
Visions of Eight flows between the segments with little demarcation beyond directors’ voiceovers announcing their intentions in their pieces. It’s a sports documentary concerned primarily with the physical and emotional cost of performing at a high level rather than basic notions of who wins or loses. In their most ideal form, the Olympics are a platform for member countries to compete in a non-violent arena. What is that like for someone on the ground? What does it mean to someone who has trained their whole life? What does that look like in slow-motion with contemplative music? That last question is the one most directly answered by Visions of Eight because it describes basically all the segments in the film. These are sports as seen through the eyes of artists more concerned with the human element than keeping score.
It’s hard to believe, but the 1972 Olympic Games were nearly a half-century ago. As such, the Criterion Collection is releasing a new edition of Visions of Eight, splitting it from the set it offered a few years ago in its 100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912–2012 box set. This new edition features a new restoration, a new audio commentary and a new documentary about the making of the film. It also features several essays. The film is also available on Criterion’s streaming service, sans extras.