Visions of Eight – The Strongest
The anthology film is a difficult beast to tame. For every Night on Earth there is a corresponding Four Rooms. Cinema may be forever blessed by Yesterday, Tomorrow & Today but it would also do well to forget Amazon Women on the Moon. By the very nature of the project, the tone of the film is likely to be inconsistent, and this discordance will be amplified if multiple directors take part. By all these accounts Visions of Eight should fail, which is why it’s such a delight that the film works so well.
Arthur Penn opens proceedings with a surreal study of athletes launching themselves skyward with the pole vault; Kon Ichikawa, who four years earlier delivered perhaps the greatest Olympic tribute with Tokyo Olympiad, slows the hundred metre final down to a point where we can see sinews flexing and tendons rupturing; Claude Lelouch studies losing competitors while Miloš Forman dissects the decathlon. But for me the most accomplished segment is Mai Zetterling’s sublime journey into the world of the super heavyweight lifters.
Coming in at a bare eight minutes the sequence starts with warm up exercises in deserted plazas, bizarre squat thrust locomotion around the backstage area and the surreal pantomime of performing the actions of the clean and jerk with a naked bar devoid of weights. Then with a clang of metal dropped on cement, we are thrust into competition.
With only the sounds of the crashing kilograms and the occasional droning voice of the announcers the competition amplifies. Competitors watch their rivals from stage left, half hidden by curtains; unsuccessful lifters drop the bars and tumble over backwards; Britain’s Terry Perdue struts back and forth, exhaling loudly like a bull about to be unleashed from a pen. He takes so long to psyche himself up he nearly misses his time slot.
The eventual champion, the legendary Vasily Alekseyev is so obese he is introduced belly first. He lifts to win with such ease that the whole thing seems like a coronation, though we are soon brought back down to earth when in the next moment Zetterling shows it takes half a dozen ordinary humans, soldiers no less, to remove the weights that these giants lift singlehandedly.
At first glance this seems a simple film, with no obvious artistic flourishes but the director shoots with such effortless grace she makes a snapshot of this alien world utterly enthralling. A must see.
Visions of Eight – The Strongest directed by Mai Zetterling (1973)
From first warm up to final clean and jerk, an elite group of men compete to be crowned Strongest Man in the World.
Weightlifters clip here