Nov 20, 2010

Films featuring runners and synthesisers: Gallipolli vs Chariots of Fire

A conversation between me and the wife after seeing Gallipolli last night on TCM. I had forgotten how beautifully photographed the movie was — all those horizontals, from the landscapes to the trajectories of the runners, all preparing you for the final, cruel horizontal of that bullet — but still found myself recoiling from the final dramatic cruelty: Mel Gibson does not run fast enough to deliver the news that will save his friend from going over the top.
"It's too cruel. It's like a bullet to the head of the audience."
"I liked it."
"But it is violates the dramatic shape of the film. Mel Gibson has been billed as the fastest thing on two legs and yet he doesn't get there in time."
"Isn't that the point? Even he couldn't get there in time. It's the futility of war."
"If Tom Hanks got shot in the first five minutes of Saving Private Ryan would you say that's the futility of war, too? No. The film has to obey basic dramatic rules. It's like the ending of The English Patient. I never got that. The reason Kristin Scott Thomas dies is because Ralph Fiennes is held up at by that border guard. That's not a tragedy. That's just a hitch in customs."
"But he's held up in customs because he is a man with no nationality."
"So he's punished for being a man without a country. I see. Okay. But the same thing doesn't apply in Gallipolli. Not only is the ending not intrinsic to the hero — it doesn't spring from a flaw we know him to have — its completely extrinsic — it springs from a flaw we know he doesn't have. We know he's not slow."
"That's why it's so sad."
"I thought it was masochism. Not the futility of war but the masochism of filmmakers making a film about war."
"I think Saving Private Ryan would have been better if Ted Danson had been shot."
Here's another poser: which was the first film, set during the first few decades of the 20th century, to feature two runners running to the accompaniment of an all-synthesiser score — Gallipolli (Jean Michel Jarre) or Chariots of Fire (Vangelis)? They were released within two months of one another in 1981. But someone must have been first. Men running, in period, to an a-historical synthesiser score is simply too distinctive for two sets of filmmakers to have stumbled across it in the same year. Who was first?


  1. According to the IMDb, "Gallipoli" was released in Australia on Aug. 13, 1981, the U.S. on Aug. 28, 1981, and the UK on Dec. 10, 1981. "Chariots of Fire" came out in the UK in March, 1981 and eventually premiered at the New York Film Festival on Sept. 25, 1981. Looks like Hugh Hudson by a nose. Peter Weir, though, has clearly won the longer distance.

    I'm with you on the synthesizer for "Gallipoli," which gets in the way of an otherwise much better movie than "Chariots," which blends the music into the narrative much more seamlessly. (Really, it is the narrative.) I have to agree with your wife, though, on "Gallipoli"'s ending. It's tragic, appropriate and inevitable.

  2. I fear you may be right about Chariots being first. The Weir is clearly the better film, and I actually like the Jarre score (it's from Oxygene, I think). I realise I am being a dunce about the ending.