360. Chariots of Fire

Movie: Chariots of Fire

Release Date: May 15, 1981 (UK), September 25, 1981 (USA)

Director: Hugh Hudson

Starring: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nigel Havers, Cheryl Campbell, Alice Krige, Lindsay Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Nigel Davenport, Brad Davis, Peter Egan, Sir John Gielgud, Ian Holm, Patrick Magee

Tag Lines: “This is the story of two men who run…not to run…but to prove something to the world. They will sacrifice anything to achieve their goals…Except their honor.”

“With Wings on their Heels and Hope in their Hearts.”

“Two men chasing dreams of glory!”

Relevance: ‘Chariots of Fire’ is unique for me because its relevance is less about the actual movie and more about its association with the Academy Awards and its music.

The Academy Awards broadcast was always a staple in my household growing up, thanks to my mom. She was a huge fan of the glitz, glamour and fashion of Hollywood as well as the movies themselves. To say I followed in her footsteps is an understatement. Even though the awards were most likely on previous years, the first one that I remember watching with her was the 54th Academy Awards in 1982. At this point in Oscar history, the awards were presented around the end of March or early April. My birthday falls at the end of March so there was already a sense of celebration going on in my head at the time. The Oscars just added to it. This particular show broadcast on March 29, 1982 and I had just turned 11 years old. What made me extra excited about this particular year and made me watch the entire show (before this I usually fell asleep around hour two) was the nomination of two movies that I hadn’t even seen at the time. They were ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘An American Werewolf in London.’ (Spoiler alert: Both of these titles will be a part of this challenge.) ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ was nominated for eight awards, including Best Picture (it won four awards plus a special achievement for sound effects editing) and ‘An American Werewolf in London’ was nominated for Best Makeup, which was the first year that particular award was handed out. (It won that award.) As I have already mentioned, I hadn’t even seen those movies yet, but I was super excited to see them. And unlike previous years where I may or may not have known about the movies nominated for Oscars, I knew about these two and I really wanted them to win. ‘Chariots of Fire’ went on to win four awards that night including Best Picture. So it was added to my must-see list along with some other winners from that night. I was definitely bit by the Oscar bug that night but it didn’t come to its full fruition until a few years down the road in 1986, but that is for another time and another movie.

Even though ‘Chariots of Fire’ was released in 1981, it did not have a wide release in the USA until after the Oscar broadcast in 1982. That was when the now popular theme song took off, eventually hitting number one on the Billboard chart in May of that year, which is a rare feat for an instrumental song. “Chariots of Fire (Titles)” is recognizable to more than just those who saw the movie. Since 1982, it has become synonymous with running. In commercials, satire, spoofs, comedy skits or other movies, if anyone was running that theme song by Vangelis (who won the Oscar that year for Best Original Score) was used. The song is forever part of the pop culture zeitgeist.

I eventually saw the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ sometime the following year when it started showing on HBO. I remember being a little underwhelmed and bored that first viewing, I re-watched it a few years ago and had a much more understanding and appreciation for the film and its themes. However for me, it will always be about that music and my beginning love for the Academy Awards.

Today’s Thoughts: After watching this film today, it is easy to see why ‘Chariots of Fire’ won Best Picture in 1982. It is your typical Oscar fare for the early 80’s; British, beautifully shot, emotional storytelling with excellent performances by everyone across the board. Its an enjoyable film, as far as historical dramas are concerned and I probably enjoyed watching it this time around more than my previous viewings. I was especially taken this time around by Eric Liddell’s story as portrayed by Ian Charleson. Liddell was a devout christian with missionary parents who refuses to run a race at the 1924 Olympics because it is on a Sunday. I may not believe the same things as he does but I was still taken by his strong convictions and how this was portrayed in the screenplay. (“I am fascinated by the spiritual man, I am humbled by his humble nature.” – Alanis Morissette)

You only have to wait sixty seconds into the film to witness the iconic scene of the group of men running along the ocean shore with the gorgeous synthesized Vangelis theme playing in the background. Noticed this time around is that the same scene is shown again at the end of the movie but with some subtle differences. For a moment at the end, that same visual is shown with the hymn “Jerusalem” slowly fading out to just the sound of the men running with the waves crashing on the shore. This sound lasts for about a minute before the Vangelis theme slowly fades in. It is both breathtaking and emotional, especially after spending two hours watching these characters’ journeys. It is quite an effective bookend for the film.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Picture (winner), Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Colin Welland (winner), Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Milena Canonero (winner), Academy Award for Best Music, Original Score, Vangelis (winner), Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Ian Holm (nomination), Academy Award for Best Director, Hugh Hudson (Nomination), Academy Award for Best Film Editing, Terry Rawling (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film (winner), BAFTA for Best Film (winner), BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design, Milena Canonero (winner), BAFTA for Best Supporting Artist, Ian Holm (winner), BAFTA for Best Cinematography, David Watkin (nomination), BAFTA for Best Direction, Hugh Hudson (nomination), BAFTA for Best Editing, Terry Rawling (nomination), BAFTA for Best Production Design/Art Direction, Roger Hall (nomination), BAFTA for Best Screenplay, Colin Welland (nomination), BAFTA for Best Sound, Clive Winter, Bill Rowe, Jim Shields (nomination), BAFTA for Best Supporting Artist, Nigel Havers (nomination), Directors Guild of America, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, Hugh Hudson (nomination), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for Best Foreign Film (nomination), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for Best Music, Vangelis (nomination), National Board of Review Best Film (winner), National Board of Review Top Ten Films (winner), New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Cinematographer, David Watkin (winner), New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Director, Hugh Hudson (nomination), New York Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Film (4th place).

Ways to Watch: YouTube, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, iTunes, HBO Go, DVD availability.

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