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Chariots of Fire – 1981 Hudson
- Chariots of Fire is best known for the brilliant Vangelis synthesizer musical score- and for being the film that upset Warren Beatty’s epic juggernaut Reds for best picture in 1981.
- The film centers on two British track athletes as they converge upon the 1924 Olympics. Ben Cross plays Harold Abrahams- a Jewish man with a monomaniacal focus. Ian Charleson plays Eric Liddell- a devout Christian.
- Charleson and Cross were unknown actors, but Chariots of Fire shrewdly casts veteran talents like John Gielgud and Ian Holm (marvelous here) in support. There is a very small role Richard Griffiths (Withnail & I) as a porter and Brad Davis (Midnight Express) plays the American Olympian Jackson Scholz.
- The film may be about the Brits- but it is a Greek (Vangelis) that wins the film. Chariots of Fire won Best musical score (along with writing, best picture, and costume) and for a brief period of time Vangelis was the best composer in cinema (Blade Runner is the following year).
- From Ebert- “Heard, in one of the most remarkable sound tracks of any film in a long time, with music by the Greek composer Vangelis Papathanassiou. His compositions for “Chariots of Fire” are as evocative, and as suited to the material, as the different but also perfectly matched scores of such films as “The Third Man”” – https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/chariots-of-fire-1981
- The film tackles antisemitism, the glorification of God- heavy themes.
- The strongest sequence in the film is undoubtedly the slow-motion beach running scene that opens the film. All five runners (including Liddell with his trademark head back, mouth open and flailing arms) step up into the camera’s view one by one within the same shot while Vangelis reigns. It is a glorious opening.
- The story really starts in 1978 at a funeral and quickly flashes back to 1924. Within that the film jumps back even farther to 1919 to tell tale of the two men and the five years leading up to the Olympics.
- Outside of the beach scene opening, Hudson’s direction is fairly quiet. In one scene though at Cambridge the camera does float around the room as the freshman sign up for various clubs. Abrahams is at Cambridge. Liddell is from the Scotland Highlands. Cross plays Abrahams with this brooding anger and Charleson gives Liddell genuine belief. Liddell’s sister Jennie (Cheryl Campbell) is one of the great wet blankets in cinema history.
- Hudson makes the mistake of piping in voiceover during the flashbacks as Liddell sits in the boat contemplating not running in the Olympic heat because it lands on a Sunday (his day of rest).
- The era is Gilbert and Sullivan – a part of the music when Vangelis (not a score that pervades the entire film) is absent.
- The letter writing narrative vehicle from the Aubrey Montague (Nicholas Farrell) character is not carried out throughout the film.
- The slow motion is back as Hudson replays the 100-meter race in Paris—Vangelis has a few themes used.
- Hudson makes the wise choice of recalling the three-minute opening shot on the beach from the opening to close out the film.
- This was Hudson’s baby, and it took years for him to get it made. This is his debut at age 45. Revolution in 1985 with Pacino sort of derailed his career.
- Recommend / Highly Recommend to Highly Recommend—probably leaning HR with that opening