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Chariots of Fire


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#1 SDG

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 01:37 PM

This might seem an odd way to begin a thread on Chariots of Fire, but...

In the thread on Reggie White's passing, Peter posted a link to a Salon.com article crediting White as a significant factor in the rise of overt religiosity in sports in the last two decades, while also noting White's recent misgivings about the way that sports and religion were mixed in his experience. [1]

Anyway, the reference in that article to the rise of religion in sports in the last two decades struck me as I was writing about Chariots of Fire, which was released in 1981. And I wondered... could this film have had any sort of impact on the rise of religiosity in sports?

Or could it be the other way around -- could the story have resonated with a culture in which sports was beginning to get religion?

Or am I loopy for even thinking about this?

Any thoughts about this? About God and sports generally? About Chariots of Fire?

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[1]FWIW, the writer of that article is apparently a Unitarian Universalist who has been criticized fo "assail[ing] conservative Christian leaders for dominating the national moral values debate with a 'narrow' view of biblical principles" (link); which presumably explains why the Salon.com piece seems suspicious of conservative Christianity.

#2 SDG

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 01:52 PM

At the very least, it would seem that we can say that the new Muscular Christianity in American sports should make this film more relevant, not less, than when it was released. (A number of critics have suggested that the film is "dated," but I don't find myself that it's aged badly. And the one thing about the film that is inescapably 80s, the Vangelis score, is to my ears no less transcendent today than it was at the time.)

#3 Darrel Manson

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 03:01 PM

I dunno, I was in FCA when in college, so the link of Christianity and jocks was already firmly established. For that matter, Paul was fond of using athletic metaphors. And for some reason, it seems to always tend toward a more conservative version of Christianity (which is probably why I was such a lousy jock.)

There are certainly themes within atheltics that fit well with Christianity - including community, giftedness, commitment and dedication, and sacrifice. However, there are other themes that are more troublesome - including self-reliance (often to the point of self-agrandizement), hubris, and the idea of strength/power (in what ever form) as the way to achieve a goal.

#4 SDG

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 03:15 PM

I absolutely agree, Darrel, that the general sports-religion connection is hardly new. In fact, the phrase "muscular Christiianity" is a term with roots in the second half of the nineteeth century.

Still, there seems to have been a resurgence of popular religion in American sports -- the frequency with which Jesus or God is credited for the latest win, the finger pointed skyward after the touchdown or home run, the kneeling for prayer on the field, etc.

Terry Mattingly on God in American sports and sport history

#5 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 05:10 PM

Hmmm, a movie about sprinters and long-distance runners doesn't seem like quite the catalyst I'd look for behind "muscular" Christianity. It seems to me that most "male" sports are either about raw physical power (e.g. boxing, wrestling), teamwork (e.g. baseball, basketball) or both (e.g. football) -- but running lacks both the obvious physicality and the male bonding.

And what about female athletes? Is there a "muscular Christianity" for them as well? For that matter, are evangelicals as pronounced a part of the female sports world as they are of the men's?

#6 Darrel Manson

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Posted 27 January 2005 - 09:57 PM

QUOTE(SDG @ Jan 27 2005, 12:15 PM)

Still, there seems to have been a resurgence of popular religion in American sports -- the frequency with which Jesus or God is credited for the latest win, the finger pointed skyward after the touchdown or home run, the kneeling for prayer on the field, etc.

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I've always been curious why they don't point skyward or pray after striking out or jumping offsides. It would seem like a perfect time for prayer.

Working my way through Uselsess Beauty, I'm sure jocks hate Ecc. 9:11 - it's not always the fastest or strongest that wins, "time and chance happen to them all."


#7 MattPage

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Posted 28 January 2005 - 03:27 AM

Well I probably spend as much time playing sport as I do watching films, and Loughborough is the best university for Sport in the country (so that's at least something that has changed since the story behing Chariots of Fire).

It's a funny film because the central issue to Liddel's faith (as presented in the film) is not playing on Sunday. This is something I have no objection to in principle (unless it interferes with corporate worship on a regular basis), and yet somehow as a sportsman the film is incredibly inspiring. And I say that as someone who is a Christian that plays a "muscular" game. That said I think I disagree with Peter's point - on the surface the sports are very different, but you get to a point and the psycological / motivational aspects are all very similar - and that's probably why sports people love it because there's such dedication. For Liddel it comes second to his God, but the scene where he gets tripped up and gets up and wins the race marks him as a man with incredible, incredible drive.

But then I'm not sure what muscular Christianity is really. I've never pointed to the sky on the rare occasion when I score (although yes I'll thank God maybe later in my own way), and I don't ascribe every win as the work of God - what if there were Christians on the other team as well? But I do thank for the opportunities he's given me, and the abilities he's given me. And that although I'm the only Christian in my club (and have been over the 8 years and hundreds of players I've played with in that time) it's a club that is sympathethic to my faith, and just let's me get on with it while they all go about getting trolleyed.

As for the muscular female Christianity thing, there are two girls at my church who have played in the top league for Hockey, and one of them subbed at Twickenham once as well. So we have a bit of that around to. Not that you'd call them muscular per se, but they're not the type to wear pretty bows in their hair. But they're great women who I have a lot of admiration for.

MAtt

PS One other film that maybe significant here is Jerry Maguire. There isn't a Christian Sports person in that film, but I find, at least, that I can't separate Gooding's character's display at the end of the film, with THAT speech he made after winning an Oscar for that same role

#8 Ron Reed

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Posted 30 January 2005 - 03:55 AM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Jan 27 2005, 02:10 PM)
Hmmm, a movie about sprinters and long-distance runners doesn't seem like quite the catalyst I'd look for behind "muscular" Christianity.  It seems to me that most "male" sports are either about raw physical power (e.g. boxing, wrestling), teamwork (e.g. baseball, basketball) or both (e.g. football) -- but running lacks both the obvious physicality and the male bonding.

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You may be right that there's not a lot of connection between CHARIOTS and the current sports/Christianity stuff, I don't know. It's an interesting question.

But there's no denying the connection between CHARIOTS and the historical phenomenon of "muscular Christianity," which was a specific idea or movement in pre-WW2 England and America. I recently listened to a Mars Hill Audio Journal piece on it (Volume 57July/Aug. 2002: Clifford Putney, "on muscular Christianity and the origins of the YMCA"). You saw it reflected in all the turn-of-the-last-century churches that were built with gymnasiums and even swimming pools - in fact, Holy Trinity church, where Pacific Theatre lives, had both. Eric Lidell is absolutely a prime example of "muscular Christianity," and there are sections of the film that connect very directly with that movement. I need to go to bed, so I can't be specific, but it's clear that Eric and several of his Christian friends specifically see his triumphs on the athletic field as an ideal means to preach the gospel, and Eric's sermon in the rain is a perfect example of a "muscular Christianity" sermon.



#9 SDG

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Posted 31 January 2005 - 10:10 AM

FWIW, my review.

#10 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 04:05 AM

Link to the thread on the proposed sequel, which includes a few excerpts from Margaret R. Miles's critique of the original film and its respective portrayals of the Christian and Jewish characters.

#11 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 11 September 2007 - 02:05 PM

There's some discussion in the other thread about the origin of the phrase "Chariots of Fire". It ultimately harks back to the Bible and the stories about Elijah and Elisha, but as far as this film is concerned, the immediate source seems to be the hymn 'Jerusalem' (which is performed on the soundtrack -- sung, I think, at the funeral of Harold Abrahams, but I could be wrong about that), which in turn was based on William Blake's poem 'And did these feet in ancient time'.

So there are some interesting layers of meaning to this movie's title.

Do "those feet" remind us of the runners?

The poem was apparently set to music in 1916, when some Englishmen were looking for a rousing patriotic song in the depths of World War I; and lo and behold, this movie begins almost immediately after the War. (I have not seen the film in years, but I remember someone at a train station, I think, pointing to the athletes-to-be and saying something like, "That's why we fought the war, so chaps like that could get an education.")

The song is also, as I just mentioned, very patriotic -- and Harold Abrahams, in particular, is profoundly concerned with being a part of English society. (Note the scene where he sings Gilbert & Sullivan's 'He Remains an Englishman' -- a song that my sisters and I still sing to this day, precisely because of this movie.)

In its hymn form, the song also goes by the title 'Jerusalem', which of course was the capital city of the Jewish kingdom. So the song's presence in the film highlights the strange fact that a Jew would have trouble fitting into English society, given that this society trumpets its English patroitism by referring to a piece of Jewish history.

And of course, Christians cherish Jerusalem too, so the song is something that could be shared by the Christian and Jewish protagonists together. (Or could it? The Christian protagonist is Scottish. Do Scots have any affinity for Blake's romanticized view of England?)

Are there any other resonances that I may have missed?

#12 MattPage

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 08:57 AM

FWIW I always think Blake's poem is a more prophetic view of England rather than a romanticised view. But I know most people don't, even though his art is very apocalyptic.

Matt

#13 Ron Reed

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Posted 12 September 2007 - 10:16 AM

QUOTE(Peter T Chattaway @ Sep 11 2007, 12:05 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
There's some discussion in the other thread about the origin of the phrase "Chariots of Fire". It ultimately harks back to the Bible and the stories about Elijah and Elisha, but as far as this film is concerned, the immediate source seems to be the hymn 'Jerusalem' (which is performed on the soundtrack -- sung, I think, at the funeral of Harold Abrahams, but I could be wrong about that), which in turn was based on William Blake's poem 'And did these feet in ancient time'.

So there are some interesting layers of meaning to this movie's title....
Are there any other resonances that I may have missed?

I've always associated the hymn with British Israelism, "a Christian theology based on the premise that many early British people, Europeans and/or their royal families were direct lineal descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel and in some cases of the Tribe of Judah." Until your post I don't remember having given much thought to the connections to this film, but I wonder if there's anything to tease out there? Given the story elements related to Abrahams' Jewishness, and desire to be fully "English."

I'm not suggesting there's any direct connection in the filmmakers' minds. Not having thought this through at all, I'm mostly struck by the irony of the fact that British Israelism would consider that all Brits are Jews, more or less, (or many of them, anyhow), so the silent anti-Semitism that Abrahams faced is especially galling.

British Israelism was one of the "cults" Christians studied back in the early days of my Christian life, early seventies, because of "The World Tomorrow" TV show with Garner Ted Armstrong, whose dad Herbert W. (hmm, the first Dubya?) was a huge popularizer of the idea with his World Wide Church Of God.

Interesting to stumble on this thread this morning, having watched THIS IS ENGLAND last night. Direct line from The Powers That Be at Oxbridge post-WW1 to the National Front in 1983? Yikes.

Ron

PS No idea if the connection in my mind between the hymn and the sect exists entirely in my own mind, or whether there is actually some historic connection.

PPS Here's a link that connects Blake and British Israelism. I haven't made any effort to sort through all the names and associations detailed in the piece (side question: how would the psychological profiles compare, between cult hunters and conspiracy theorists?), but the article cites some stuff about Blake that brings forward his strange beliefs about all that sort of stuff. My skim of the article also suggests a racist element in Anglo Israelism, that looks like it was eschewed by later adherents. So a different angle on the resonances of "Jerusalem" in CHARIOTS?

Edited by Ron, 12 September 2007 - 10:28 AM.


#14 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 23 April 2012 - 11:57 PM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPe27x0_W2M&feature=youtu.be

As the 2012 Olympics near, Chariots of Fire has been digitally remastered for a re-release in the theaters.

Edited by Persiflage, 24 April 2012 - 12:03 AM.


#15 kenmorefield

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Posted 04 July 2012 - 12:54 PM

Todd and I decided to revisit this film for a podcast over at The Thin Place.


SHOW NOTES:


  • 0:00 – Intro: Why Do Christians Love this Film?
  • 5:00 – Is it idealized? Shaping a true story.
  • 10:13 – What is the story?
  • 18:03 – Does God care who wins sporting events?
  • 26:30 – Affinity vs. Judgment
  • 30:08 – Better and Worse Than I Remember
  • 34:36 – Tim Tebow, Identity Politics, and Incarnational Christianity
  • 44:45 – Overall impressions and conclusion.


#16 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 24 July 2012 - 12:50 PM

Alex von Tunzelmann @ the Guardian gives the film a B+ for entertainment and a C- for history, e.g.:

Abrahams is joined by Lord Andrew Lindsay (Nigel Havers), who is based mostly on David, Lord Burghley. The clock chimes. They run. Abrahams powers across the finish line just as the final chime strikes, with Lindsay trailing behind. In real life, Abrahams never contested the Great Court Run. The first person to complete it was Burghley in 1927. Later, Lindsay has his butler place glasses of champagne on hurdles in the grounds of his country house to check he doesn't catch them with his feet. In a country then plagued by high unemployment, falling wages and terrible working conditions, which would lead to the general strike of 1926, this frankly makes him seem like a bit of a berk. Surely the grass wouldn't notice if he substituted a decent prosecco. Rather than champagne, the real Lord Burghley used matchboxes. . . .

Meanwhile there's a problem for another Olympic runner, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson). His 100 metres heat is on a Sunday, but he's a devout Christian, raised by missionaries in China to respect the sabbath. His head rings with the voice of his God-bothering sister, Jennie, who just won't let him be great. "I don't want his work spoilt with all this running talk, do you hear?" she snaps at his coach. She scowls any time he starts enjoying himself, and even accuses him of insulting God, which goes rather too far: in real life, she was supportive of her brother's running. . . .

In the film, Lord Birkenhead and the Prince of Wales try to persuade Liddell to run on the Sunday. He won't. At the last minute Lindsay, who has already won a medal, offers to swap places with Liddell, so he can run the 400 metres on Thursday instead. The real Lord Burghley went out in the first round of the 1924 Olympics, though he won medals in 1928 and 1932. It's true that Liddell refused to run on the Sunday, but since the race schedule was published months in advance he had ample time to swap events and train for the 400 metres. The added tension of the late change does make for a sharper movie, though, and at least Chariots of Fire gets the outcome of this race right. . . .