The 1924 Olympics were the second Olympic games hosted in Paris. Forty-five countries participated in 131 events. The Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger” was used for the first time as well as the Olympic Village was introduced at these Paris games. Despite crowds numbering 60,000 spectators at one time, the venue lost a considerable amount of money. Although Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams of Great Britain won the 400- and 100-meter events respectively, US swimmer Johnny Weissmuller (later Hollywood’s Tarzan) won 3 gold medals in Swimming and bronze in Water Polo to lead the US to winning the most medals…99 total.
Both Abrahams and Liddell were driven runners, but each was driven by different beliefs. When producer David Putnam brought Liddell’s personal Olympic success to the screen in 1981, he wanted to create a powerful movie, like Robert Bolt’s Oscar-winning A Man for All Seasons, about choosing honor instead of seeking glory. His movie Chariots of Fire endowed the 1924 Olympics with idealistic stature. The screenplay astutely analyzed Liddell’s moral dilemma and Ian Charleson perceptively illuminated Liddell’s decision elevating his Olympic track victory into a triumph of principle.
Chariots of Fire won Oscars for Best Picture, Screenplay, Costumes, and Music. From the first frame of the credits, this is a lofty film. First notes of the musical theme are already glorious. The production is lush. Chariots of Fire is a movie elegant enough to encapsulate the past and fluid enough to catch the wind.
I sat along the banquette in Caprice, my favorite London restaurant, after seeing the stage adaptation of Chariots of Fire at the Hampstead Theatre. Mike Bartlett’s stage adaptation streamlined the story into episodes in energetic motion. Ed Hall’s direction was strong and physical. The familiar Vangelis movie theme was augmented by new music by Vangelis and Jason Carr as well as by Gilbert and Sullivan favorites. Debuting thirty years after Putnam’s film in this new artistic arena, the stage production was interactive, exciting, and athletic.
The Hampstead Theater had been re-configured into Olympic stadium seating surrounding a small revolving stage designed by Miriam Buether as a disc within a disc creating two revolving, concentric spaces. Behind and slightly above the four-sided seating ran a third space–another track—also occupied by actors in continuous motion. Jack Lowden was intense as Liddell; as Abrahams, James McArdle was explosive. In very different interpretations, both actors flashed electric high voltage as the young heroes. Brilliant story, splendid writing, and incandescent acting. I liked Chariots of Fire on film; I liked Chariots of Fire on stage—I’d figured I would. I was in London; it was a musical play, and the Olympic-year stage version was the brainchild of the film's director, Hugh Hudson, who co-produced the play. The adaptors were wise enough to re-imagine the movie for the stage.
The British possess an idiosyncratic sense of humor as well as a distinctive sense of decorum. Thus Oscar-winning Director Danny Boyle’s brilliant London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony that same summer included James Bond, the Queen of England, and a satiric interpretation of Chariots of Fire’s sacrosanct credits. Maestro Sir Simon Rattle, the London Symphony Orchestra, and master comedian Rowan Atkinson, all icons themselves, parodied Vangelis’s iconic movie theme.
Rio de Janeiro 2016
I recently streamed Mike Bartlett’s Wild live from London’s Hampstead Theater, the same theater where I saw Bartlett’s 2012 Chariots of Fire before its West End transfer.
The potential and ramifications of this worldwide stream amaze me and prompt an Olympic fantasy stream: Chariots of Fire with the same leading men as the 2012 London Summer Olympics stage version.
Since this is Fantasy—let’s factor in that 2012 Olympics sense of humor with an American touch. Jack Lowden finished shooting Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk with pop star Harry Styles and began shooting his starring stint as Morrissey, “The Pope of Mope.” McArdle is fresh from playing Liv Nek in the global phenomenon Star Wars re-boot. How about after the Chariots curtain calls, the worldwide stream continues with a roundtable interview with Rowan Atkinson, Mike Bartlett, Jack Lowden, James McArdle, and Harry Styles about Chariots on screen and stage, movie and pop music, and the Olympic Dream? One more name for my fantasy: the interviewer, full-figured Jiminey Glick.
Surely one or another of Morgan, Mason, Matthew and Modine, Glick’s four sons, is a fan of the Rio Olympics, the Star Wars franchise, Vangelis, One Direction, and the Smiths—so much to talk about. Olympic Gold!