At a brisk eight minutes in length, The Olympic Games As They Were Practiced in Ancient Greece is perhaps the shortest live-action film I have ever reviewed. It also has perhaps the longest title for a film I have reviewed.
Something about a film that short having a title that long makes me wonder whether I am missing something. As They Were Practiced in Ancient Greece is a very curious featurette, a mixture of film and photography with some rather curious moments.
We see a series of tableaux where extremely muscular men do the Jazz Age version of a Mannequin Challenge and stand still, or as still as they can, as the camera moves past them. The attempt is to show what certain events, such as wrestling or running, would look like if we could take a series of time-lapse photographs and string them together.
After the finish striking a pose, we see a recreation of how these games were, concluding with the odd Athletes at Rest, where we see our group of burly men again striking a pose in what is meant to be a relaxed mood.
The sight of so many nearly-nude muscular men may have people think As They Were Practiced in Ancient Greece is either homoerotic or clips from an old Mae West review. However, I think director Jean de Rovera was very sincere in attempting to make a genuine recreation of a long-vanished spectacle.
There are some really impressive moments, helped by his use of slow-motion filming. The opening where we see a man jump over a group of shields is quite impressive.
We also saw that the wrestling sequence looked almost balletic when we have the slow motion.
However, at times he also was, I think, trying to be a bit cinematic and artistic, even trying to make a film with disastrous results.
In a brief moment, de Rovera has one element that strays from his series of tableaux to show what appears to be a woman looking admiringly at a winning athlete. I say 'appears to be a woman' because to be honest, whoever that person was looked like a man in drag.
It is also clear that the men were struggling holding their distinct poses. Part of the charm of As They Were Played in Ancient Greece is in seeing the various models trembling as they had to keep from falling or moving. It's perfectly natural given that they are asked to keep still for a particular moment of time.
It makes more sense when you see one segment, Fighting With Weapons. It's already hard enough to ask someone to hold still while shooting a film. However, throw in the fact that a spear is inches from your face, and the trembling takes a more dangerous turn.
It does lend itself to being asked if perhaps they had held a particular pose longer than the clip of them used.
In the annals of Olympic films, The Olympics As They Were Played in Ancient Greece is a curiosity: extremely short with an attempt at education but an unintended result of quasi-gay erotica. I didn't see that myself but wouldn't argue with anyone who does. Whether the games were played in ancient Greece in the same way they were presented is another matter.
Next Olympic Film: The Olympic Games in Paris 1924