WolfmanOz at the Movies #29


Bring me my Chariot of Fire

Composer Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, or more commonly known as Vangelis, died only a couple of months ago. A Greek composer mostly of electronic orchestral music, he was most prolific in the scoring of movies. His most best known score, and arguably his most beloved, was for the wonderful 1981 historical sports drama Chariots Of Fire.

On first appearances, it was certainly an unusual choice of scoring for this film, but it instantly hit a nerve with the public and has become an instant classic, likewise the film, which for me still resonants to this day in its depiction of two amazing British athletes – Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell – who both overcame major impediments in achieving their Olympic success in winning Gold medals at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

The film chronicles their rise to prominence in British athletics in the early 1920s with Abrahams running to overcome prejudice as he was Jewish, and Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God.

I have to admit that back in 1981 I had only heard of Harold Abrahams before due to his statesman like role in British athletics and Eric Liddell was a complete unknown to me. Subsequently I’ve read a lot about this remarkable and Godly man who became a missionary teacher in China where he eventually died in 1945 in a Japanese civilian internment camp.

Ian Charleson’s performance as Liddell is for me the standout performance in a film that is splendidly acted across the board. He perfectly captures the essence of a deeply religious man who can run fast, and, for want of a better word, a good man in the truest sense of the word.

The film’s depiction of their gold medal races is quite starkly different in tone, which is tremendously emphasised by Vangelis’ music in both scenes.

Abrahams triumph in the 100 metres is shown as methodical in its build up with the music ceasing with the firing of the starters gun and not resuming again until after Abraham’s has won followed by a montage of the race again in slow motion intercut with Abrahams accepting the congratulations of his win.

Then we have Liddell’s triumph in the 400 metres, where the scene commences without music as the runners prepare for the race, and where American runner Jackson Scholz hands Liddell a note of support quoting 1 Samuel 2:30 “In the old book it says: ‘He that honours me I will honour” – although in reality it was handed to Liddell by one of the teams masseurs.

As the race begins we hear Liddell’s thoughts as he says he runs as “He feels His pleasure” which then merges into Vangelis triumphant music which is marvellously stirring and emotional.

I have always viewed the film as one of those that celebrates the innate goodness of individual people which triumphs over adversities, in a time which seems to be less complicated than today. It also raises the issue of faith, of refusal to compromise and standing up for one’s beliefs, achieving something for the sake of it, with passion, and not just for fame or financial gain.

And to quote Kate Muir’s review of the 2012 re-release: “In a time when drug tests and synthetic fibres have replaced gumption and moral fibre, the tale of two runners competing against each other in the 1924 Olympics has a simple, undiminished power. From the opening scene of pale young men racing barefoot along the beach, full of hope and elation, backed by Vangelis’s now famous anthem, the film is utterly compelling.”

Enjoy.

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22 thoughts on “WolfmanOz at the Movies #29”

  1. I actually reckon CoF doesn’t hold up that well. It’s too goody-twoshoes. I prefer The Jericho Mile, which came out about the same time. I saw both back then, and TJM made the bigger impression on me. (But it may not hold up that well either.)


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  2. lotocoti says:
    July 14, 2022 at 11:21 am
    Listen to the 100m clip at 03:10 and try not to think of the opening of Blade Runner.

    That’s an excellent pick-up !

    Blade Runner was released only a year later.


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  3. And did those feet in ancient time
    Walk upon England’s mountains green?
    And was the holy Lamb of God
    On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

    And did the Countenance Divine
    Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
    And was Jerusalem builded here
    Among these dark Satanic mills?

    Bring me my bow of burning gold:
    Bring me my arrows of desire:
    Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
    Bring me my chariot of fire.

    I will not cease from mental fight,
    Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
    Till we have built Jerusalem
    In England’s green and pleasant land.

    William Blake


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  4. I love this movie and have watched it many times. It stirred in me an interest in following middle distance running of the Coe/Ovett/Walker eras.
    Some of my favourite scenes:
    – practicing hurdles with champagne glasses on each hurdle
    – the opening scene
    – “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.”
    – both mens’ finals at the Olympics.

    The movie’s title always reminds me of the great UK league and rugby winger Martin Offiah, nicknamed “Chariots” for obvious reasons.


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  5. I used to play this music in my head when slugging Cliff Young style around the norm Adelaide parklands.
    On a hot day I stopped at a tap to slash water on my face, before me was this 70 yr old woman who ran a solar route and I was half her age.
    She went norf I went west – I was flying with this music in my head.
    Then when turned the corner onto Braun’s Road she was 300 metres in front on me after 3 minutes.
    Oh the horror, the horror


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  6. Movie clips, and Top Gun the original

    If you just got all the flying bits, carrier takeoffs and landings included – that would be a terrific movie to watch I reckon, maybe only 15 minutes or so, but what a cool 15 or so minutes!

    Recently I saw some Star Trek, original series, where they edited out of each episode the “A” storyline, and only had the “B” storyline .. fascinating


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  7. Bit specialised for me. I don’t like sport movies.

    Movie music is well worth discussing more broadly. Note that the composer of the James Bond theme died the other day.

    Assuming he had a decent contract, he would never have had to work again.

    The one hit wonder of all time!


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  8. I don’t like sport movies.

    Not even Heaven Can Wait? Warren Beatty would be quite watchable for a lady I think!

    With a scrumptious Julie Christy for the guys eg. me. On the other hand I can’t recall any music from that fillum, and the wiki is silent on that subject. Maybe movies don’t always need endless Third Man style tweedling in the background? It’s an idea.

    As to Mr Norman nobody did it better, although he didn’t actually do that particular song. 😀


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  9. A mate of mine said his favourite sports film was Fiona Bruce of Antiques Roadshow putting on skin tight leggings and doing the hurdles- ostensibly because the venue that day had some connection to characters like Liddell and Abrahams and consequently the movie! He says she looked bloody good and didn’t knock down any of the hurdles.


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  10. Wow just came from top gun.
    Cracker – action on action on action.
    Then the physics lesson throughout.
    There is also the girls scene – my 20 yr old daughter loved the football scene.
    The drama – wow Marvericks bad day – things happen in 3 s –
    Oh the horror, the horror


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  11. Blake, in one BBC discussion I heard, was referred to by a staunch Christian there as ‘that maundering pagan’. The bow, arrows, spear and chariot are indeed very ancient symbols of battle, going back to the Bronze Age or before it, the call being to warriorship and winning at all costs.

    The chariot of fire is the sun god coursing across the sky. The supreme achiever.


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