There’s a film out at the moment called Unbroken directed by Agelina Jolie and starring Jack O’Connell (the guy who played Cook in Skins). It’s a biopic of Louis Zamperini who ran the 5,000 metres in the 1936 Olympics before joining the US Air Force and then ending up in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.
I’ve not watched it but here’s a clip from the official trailer showing Zamperini winning a running race.
When I was watching this I was struck by how tough and angry O’Connell looks as he crosses the finishing line.
Here’s a still photograph of the same scene I think. Powerful.
I started to think it looked more like contemporary short distance runners after they complete a race (see this photo of Michael Johnson for example) or like contemporary action heroes – muscular, flexed, triumphant – rather than someone from the 1930s. So then I took a look at some actual footage of Zamperini and found this sequence of him from what looks like a similar period.
He looks much more relaxed and free flowing than O’Connell when he crosses the finishing line.
And here’s a photo from another finish by Zamperini where he also looks calm.
Runners have got faster and more muscular in the last century such that if O’Connell tried running like a champion runner from the 1930s he might not come across as world-class to audiences in 2015. And maybe we expect idealised images of men to be more muscular and explosive. And maybe this is compounded by quicker film cuts and Vines and gifs which require a much quicker climax which trains the expectations of our eyes. It’s all speculation – maybe his shouty triumphalism is slightly metaphorical and trying to make a broader point in the storyline. Maybe I should watch the film.
But it reminds me of French philosopher Henri Lefebvre who made similar points (but more insightfully and succinctly) in his book Rhythmanalysis:
“Gestures cannot be attributed to nature. Proof: they change according to societies, eras. Old films show that our way of walking has altered over the course of our century: once a jauntier, a rhythm that cannot be explained by the capturing of images…Something passes as natural precisely when it conforms perfectly and without apparent effort to accepted models, to the habits valorised by a tradition (sometimes recent, but in force).”
Changing the subject (but still on running), I see the Conservative party recently launched their general election campaign this week with a photograph showing a literal road to economic recovery (actually Weimar).
But I think it’s significant that a week earlier, the Conservatives had David Cameron take part in a charity run in Oxfordshire.
This seems to be the real start of the campaign’s launch.
Taking part in the run is supposed to send out lots of positive literal messages to voters; that Cameron is healthy, charitable, rural, affluent, humble etc.
But by displaying the literal stamina of the leadership when following a course which is intended to make us think that the leadership is able to stay the metaphorical course. (And for the same reason Cameron’s detractors presented him looking tired, wet, stumbling and lost).
Politics is lots about metaphors (the electoral race, running for office) and sometimes the literal is a tool for manipulating those metaphors.