Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prefontaine vs. Without Limits


I had a chance to sit down and watch a couple of films this weekend.  I watched Without Limits (1998: Billy Crudup, Donald Sutherland, Monica Potter) and Prefontaine (1997: Jared Leto, R. Lee Ermey, Ed O'Neill).  They both cover the life, struggles, defeats and triumphs of Steve Prefontaine - an Oregon runner who died young in a car accident in 1975.  I believe that at the time of his death he was the national distance record holder for several races of distances between 2000 meters and 10k.  Both movies also present the iconic running-shoe-making Bill Bowerman (eventual co-founder of Nike) as coach of the Oregon athletics team.  Both movies talk a little of Pre's earlier days, his acceptance to Oregon, his training with Bill Bowerman, the Munich Olympics and the terrorist attack that resulted in the death of several Israeli team members, Prefontaine's fight with the American Athletics Union, and his romances.

Although each movie covered the same subject matter, the two movies could not be more different.

Prefontaine is presented as a documentary - it throws in lots of facts (we are led to believe are true).  These facts however takeaway from the story-line.  Having too much accuracy gives you too many characters to follow and care about - the title says Prefontaine, but there is no time to develop all the walk-on roles surrounding the main character and the main character also suffers because of this.  I felt Leto did not play his role that well; and although I like Ermey in all his war movies, he would not have been my choice for Bowerman.  It is a decent documentary of the last 5 years of Pre's life and it does show his life well (at least I believe it does).  They throw in Vietnam protests as well.  I wonder why they didn't throw in all the election results over the five years of the film and the Moon landings and everything else.  In a good documentary leaving stuff out is also important - and I think they left WAY TOO MUCH IN.

Without Limits is presented as a true sports film - where the moral and the message serve as the plot line around which the story is attached (some key things are removed from the story or changed to help the audience stay with the message).  Without Limits definitely makes a decision for the viewer.  A decision about how Pre lived his life, how elusive his goals were, and the athletics environment he lived in.  I think Sutherland was the perfect foil for Crudup and the story showed an excellent coach-student relationship.  All of the running strategy in this movie seemed well-placed, important and correct (negative splits, final kick, drafting behind the lead).  One other thing in this movie is that the romances where shown, but they also had a girl names Mary lay down the law that she doesn't want to be involved with a womanizer.  And although we see great love in the film - it is Pre's romance with running and the vibrancy of youth that is more important.  This film has lots of people teaching Pre a different way of doing things, and Pre doesn't seem to take people's advice too much.

I liked Without Limits better than Prefontaine.  Both movies being watched at the same time however, helped me appreciate the story more completely.

Both movies have jogged the idea that desire is as important for achievement as talent.  But at the elite level talent, desire, coaching, training and race strategy make an undefeatable combination.  Pre was shown in both films to not dive in to coaching or race strategy well.  A claim that I recall he made was that a true runner leads from the front and would not try to win the race with a last minute kick coming from the pack.  That's an admirable if naive comment on the facts of life.  The 5k and the 10k were always the thinking-woman's/man's races at the Olympics.  The different sprints were raw power, and the marathon was endurance.  But the 5k and the 10k had strategy, and tactics.  Better to run the tangent in last place at the back of the pack for the first half than to run on the outside tied for second last (because you run an amazing 8 yards more per lap in the second lane).

If this film was about Bruce Jenner, or Michael Phelps, it would end with a waving American flag and a big can of made-in-America whoop-a** for each movie goer to take home.  But what this film is about is how difficult it was for American athletes at this time to compete on the International stage - and it ends with a tragedy.  Perhaps that's why these two films are important - because they did not have any ultimate goal being conquered at the end. They both just glorified the courageous struggle of a runner.

That is something I wish for each of us: courage!

30 comments:

Allie said...

Looks like I'm going to have to Netflicks both of these, thanks.
Also, it's early so pretend I also commented something funny. I'll try again later. :)

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Cool, thanks for sharing, I need some more trainer material

Claudia said...

thanks for the reviews Andrew.
I will need to rent Without Limits.

Matty O said...

Alright... I have comments on this :)

Watched "Pre" numerous times. Never watched without limits though.

I naturally have Prefontaine's ATTITUDE toward coaching and race strategy. To be honest he is a big part of the reason I am a runner too. Got a lot of push from watching these movies in college. I am not a natural looking runner by any means, but that does not mean that I can't go out there and go balls to the wall from the sound of the gun to the finish line.

I know that I am uncoachable. This could be a downfall to me, but I just do not listen to anyone try to tell me how to be me.

Great inspirational movies though. Good post.

Matty O said...

No, maybe just call me naive and ignorant. That usually is more fitting :)

Kovas Palubinskas said...

Interesting comments, Andrew. However, if you want to understand his strategy, or lack thereof, ponder the following quote: "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more."

Andrew Opala said...

Kovas - that quote is attributed to him, and history shows that's what he ran like. And that's exactly the attitude you want in a college athlete.

However, he was always asked to sacrifice ideals on the alter of reality. And the movies show he never did.

One (of many) of my shortcomings is not to see the effort of all the people in a race. Who came in 8th when Usain Bolt got the gold medal in the sprint? Who was 5th in th 5000m in China? These movies have helped me to appreciate all the runners not just the winners.

James said...

I was just reading comparisons about both of these the other day. I've yet to watch either one. Have you seen "Running Brave" about Billy Mills and the 1964 Olympics? It's my favorite running movie.

Quinton J said...

Can't wait to get my hands on these movies. Just to touch them. That the kids will allow me to watch them will be another thing...but to touch them...

Java Joggers said...

Great reviews. I just watched part of "Without Limits" (again!) over the weekend, as it was playing on some cable station. I agree that it's better than Prefontaine. I love, love, love, the scene of the Olympics race. Even thought we all know how it turned out, I still hope that he'll win!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the review on both films, have to get them now to watch.

I like the concept of the Comrades Marathon where the Geraldine Waltson Trophy is given to the very last finisher, you really have to fight a lot of demons in other to keep going not knowing if you will make it before the gun goes.

But watching both the Ironman in Kona and the Chicago Marathon this past weekend, I have to agree with Kovas, it came down to less than a mile for the winner to push himself pass his limit to win the race, when talents are matched there is no runnaway front leader.

SteveQ said...

@Matty O: "Pre" and "Prefontaine" are two different movies from the same year about the same thing - so there's 3 movies, with "Without Limits" about Steve.
.......
I recently saw "Without Limits" again and was struck at the attempts to get the look right. The staged race bits do look like the spliced-in archival footage. In the last race, Dave Bedford was one of the runners, so I looked for the red socks - but, of course, whoever did the clothes never saw a color photo of Dave, so wouldn't know that!

I was angry with Pre's speech early in the film where he says there's no such thing as talent, he just can handle more pain than others - he had a VO2max of 84.4 and a maximal heart rate of 214! That's talent, pure and simple. Then, at the end, Bowerman says exactly what I was thinking.

FruitFly said...

I totally haven't read this post yet, but I can tell you I will be reading it closer than I do most blogs. Pre is THE Man!! I love him. I'm pretty much stalking him as much as you can stalk a non-living legend (which, of course, is made easier by living pretty much between the 2 towns he lived in). I watch these 2 movies on repeat, and am actually planning to watch them on my date Thursday night!

Okay - back to your blog .... I'll be posting another comment again after I read it! :)
~RR

FruitFly said...

Here's what I love about Pre - not just his awesome athletic skill - but his attitude. He was so cocky. My uncle, who is the age Pre would be, said Pre even ran backwards a bit during a race at my high school back in the day. But not just the confidence, he was just so determined. I pretty much just remind myself of Pre when I'm running. If my foot hurts, who cares? Pre ran with stitches. If I'm tired, who cares? Pre would get up and run anyway. .... and regarding his death - I can totally see how there would be an accident on that road. I've been to his Rock twice and even in broad daylight it is a scary, twisty little road. :(

Movie wise, I can't pick a favorite. I think it depends on my mood. Being my age, Jared Leto is still "Jordan Catalano" from My So-Called Life to me, and therefor hot, so I like to watch him. I just really enjoy both of them. Donald Sutherland does take the cake as Bowerman though!

I've actually been thinking of getting some tattoo in honor of Pre ... ssh, don't tell my mom!
~RR

Adrienne said...

I agree with you on Without Limits. Using my own interpretation, another underlying message could be to challenge runners to use themselves as a tool for success: not a GPS, hundred of dollars invested in gear, etc.

This stuff is all fine and helpful(and I of course use it), but in the end, it is just you and you alone to be courageous to step outside of the mental and physical box.

Also, I gotta go to Oregon sometime in my life:)!

Luke said...

great review. Sounds like something Ineed to watch.

Lesley @ racingitoff.com said...

How did I know Rhonda would comment on this thread.

This reminds me that I really should buy Without Limits. Love that movie, so does my non-runner husband... maybe he'll get it for his birthday.

Zaneta said...

thanks for the review! I'm gonna have to see if my local library has them! :)

Jill said...

"Human beings are made up of flesh and blood, and a miracle fiber called courage"
-George Patton

Adam said...

I've got a lot of respect for Pre....although, I can't help but wonder how much of that respect was because he was almost made a mayter the running community.

I honestly had never heard of either of these two movies, but now I want to get both of them!! I have a feeling that there is a iTunes download in my future.

Christina said...

Thanks for the review. I am going to add it to my queue on Netflix.

Gee, looks like I am expecting a big bill from you huh? First the very enlightening advice and now, a very thorough movie review.

Chris K said...

Nice post Adam. I was in Eugene this summer and Pre is still very popular there. There is a Pre section at the Oregon University book store. I bought a shirt that says, "Stop Pre". I also visited Pre's Rock where his accident occured. There are still many shoes, race medals, and candles that are placed there every day by people.

Chris K said...

Sorry, I meant, "Nice post Andrew". I was lookign at Adam's comment.

Johann said...

I've watched both more than once but always some months apart. I enjoyed both.

The fish in the tank is known as a black shark but actually a type of catfish. They get large and swollow anything that gets close to their mouth, including other fish in the tank. My trains are all HO. My 9 year old loves trains as well, we spend many hours playing together.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the review Andrew. Our local video store is terrible about getting sports films, so now I know which one to badger then about!

Aneta said...

i havent seen either movie but am interested in Without Limits.
I am also looking for a movie to watch on Saturday that is inspirational! maybe this will be it.

and andrew, thank you for all the kind words lately! ur support is very appreciated!

Adrienne said...

Prefontaine is pretty intense. I love that he never "sold out".

Emz said...

I love both of them......I must agree w/you though. Without limits. Awesome.

Molly said...

I've been meaning to watch Prefontaine, must add it to my Netflix!

Julie said...

I know that I will love these! Thanks Andrew!