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The Olympics In Mexico (1969) film notes by Tova Gannana for CSA Hitchcock

The Olympics in Mexico (Alberto Isaac, 1969) French grande ...

 

The 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico was the first Olympics held in Latin America, was the first to be televised in Technicolor and watched by 600 million across the globe, was announced by the narrator of the film The Olympics In Mexico (1969) as “the largest peaceful gathering of youth ever witnessed.” The first sound of the film is that of cheering. Inside the Olympic stadium and Olympic village a global party is happening; fans wave flags. Each country is announced as their athletes march around the track wearing the clothes of their countries; suits and ties, turbans, dresses with chevron stripes, ribboned straw hats held at their hearts, hands in white gloves, yellow dresses like daffodils. They are not individuals but part of a mass; not representing themselves but their countries. The Olympic flame travels from Olympia, “following an itinerary that symbolizes the meeting of the classical world with the New World,” the narrator announces. Genova, Barcelona and Madrid are filmed from above; tree filled parks, terracotta roofs and boulevards, a swirling whirling traffic circle. People line the city roads and clap as the Olympic flame passes them by. Others are startled by the camera crew; a man walking in front of a donkey and cart, a bride and groom posing for a moment. The Olympic flame arrives in Latin America via water. One swimmer passes the torch to another as boats circle and bob around them. The Olympics, the story goes, are about hard work and hope, the young and their coaches, joy and heartbreak, uplifting your countrymen and letting them down. The Olympics are about moments that happen within a second. Colored balloons are released and float into the atmosphere. Now this looks dated. 

Avengers in Time: 1968, Sport: Summer Olympics, Games of ...

A young woman in white runs with the flame in its last leg. Her black bob bouncing as she climbs the stairs in slow motion. She is historic in a historic moment. In her hand, the flame is more than fire; it is an ideal. The flame is eternal. Birds are released. The only sound is that of their wings. The games officially begin. A man runs and we hear him breathing. The camera is no longer on the crowds but close up on the athletes as individuals; the hairy armpit of a Hungarian javelin thrower in pigtails, a runner’s lips as he moves his tongue side to side. The Olympics are obsessive about what the human body can do. The gymnasts in white spin themselves in circles on the bar. Everything is perfection; arm muscles, outfits, the stadium’s bright lights, the manicured green grass. There is brutality. A soccer player kicks the ball at the referee. Water Polo players hold one another under water. 

 

There is an exhaustion while watching race after race. In the stadium everyone but the athletes wear suits and dresses. A boy in yellow pants looks bored. Machines in a room chatter as they transmit news about the Olympics. There are events the film does not tell us about. 10 days prior to the start of the Olympics, in a public square in Mexico City, hundreds of people, mostly women, children and students, were massacred by the Mexican army. “We don’t want Olympics, we want revolution!” they chanted. In 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago protestors chanted, “The whole world is watching.” 

Robert Beamon of South Jamaica, Queens, jumps and makes history. James Ray Hines of Dumas, Arkansas, wins a Gold. Willie Davenport of Troy, Alabama, with his trim mustache, wins a Gold. Margita Gummel of East Germany, a student and wife, wins a Gold. Their ecstatic moments caught on film. Davenport died of a heart attack in the Chicago O’Hare Airport at 59. Years after her win, Gummel was outed as one of the first athletes to use steroids. Athletes’s names and records are remembered, but not always the athlete themselves. They drift back into the population unless they have an agent who finds the right angle. The Olympic ceremonies also happen in the rain. 

The Olympics are like two sides of a drama mask, happy and sad. The team spirit, problem solving, pushing ourselves to be our best, collective winning, glory for more than just ourselves.  With any source of light what do we do when darkness gleams through? If whole communities are bulldozed in order to build Olympic villages, if athletes are doping, if there is an uptick in human trafficking around the arenas built for glory, if people are remembered for their scores but not for the lives they live, if training for the Olympics is a feat in and of itself, is it worth our energy, attention and resources every four years when so much of our known world seems to be going extinct moment by moment? 

There are Olympic moments that are forever wedded together; Jesse Owens in 1936 running and winning 4 gold medals in Berlin, Hitler watching in the stands. In 1972, Munich, after Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed, the games without pause continued. In 1968, Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos took their places to receive the Gold and Bronze. The camera not knowing what in the end would be remembered, which image will become a symbol, caught just one raised fist highlighted against the sky.

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