Bright Lights Film Journal

Olympia!

It’s August 15th, do you know where your unborn children are? Bombs! Chaos! Bigfoot! Chupacabras! aliens! Russia vs. Georgia and – and THE 2008 OLYMPICS in China!

China, the most deadliest of all the nations what with its crushing of spirited student leaders and beating of Tibetan monks and supplying of plastic goods at low low prices to giant faceless American behemoths like Wal*Mart. Maybe I’m biased, but the 2008 olympic games seem charged with aggro commie pomp. Methinks (based on all the latest soothsaying crackpot blogs I’ve been reading) that America’s cockblocking of Iran, Russia and North Korea is but a smokescreen for the real menace! China and America’s fundamentalist Christian voting bloc, these are the real enemies of mankind!

And to celebrate, here is Leni Riefenstahl’s famous diving sequence from her 1936 film of the Berlin olympics, OLYMPIA.

There’s something eerie about this film that connects (in my warped mind anyway) athletics with fascism – this rigid methodology where every movement has to be perfect – superhuman Aryan physicality and the like… you see it also in the faces of the 2008 Chinese athletes, the willing sacrifice of self into the larger social unit. They’re all trying to move like automatons, to do these exercises perfectly–like machines. The idea of someone training and sweating and crying over jumping into a pool “just right” is, to put it mildly, fucked up, especially when it becomes such a national pride obsession. Riefenstahl obviously understands this and emphasizes the beauty of these human figures – she slows the footage down so that the divers hang in the air like slowly circling hawks. As the sequence moves forward she both speeds things up and slows them down even more; night falls and the divers become silhouettes, tumbling around in a cloud or extending themselves out like kites or flying Jesuses. It’s gorgeous and mysterious and totally surreal, and yet also an Olympic document made by Hitler’s favorite girl director!

Interestingly, I saw this same segment playing on the flatscreen monitor at my local bagel shop earlier this week, which is why I thought to present it to you here. It was folded into some long satellite fed news assemblage… the sort of thing that now plays on airplanes and taxis and subway entrances… the most inescapable of screens. “Olympic moments in history – 1936 Berlin, diving competition” was the only context for the footage; no mention of Nazis or Leni Riefenstahl, no mention of the incredibly surreal montage effects (love the dude tumbling out of liquid sky). Somehow this seemed scary and sad… like the way Chinese commercial fisherman will cut off the dorsal fins of sharks (an alleged aphrodesiac), then throw the now rudderless, bleeding bodies back into the water, still kicking and tumbling, their blood attracting more sharks until there’s a feeding frenzy and the seas run commie red.