by Katharine Erwin
So often artists hold on to material and work, squirreling it away from the public due to timing or budget or perfectionism—half-painted masterpieces rolled up and forgotten, or handwritten novels tucked in a bottom drawer. Fortunately, Roman Polanski’s masterpiece “Weekend of a Champion” wasn’t lost, but recently revived for the big screen. Originally shot in 1971, the story follows former Formula 1 racer Sir Jackie Stewart during the weekend of the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix. The film was only shown only at the Berlin Film Festival in 1972 and then “disappeared.” It was recently rediscovered at London’s Technicolor lab and, upon re-visiting the work, Polanski decided to move forward with bringing it to contemporary audiences.
The film—which has been re-edited and added to—is more home movie than documentary in its intimate portrayal of the beautiful and delicate operation that was Formula 1 racing in the Seventies. Unlike Hollywood’s take on the historic time in the recent movie “Rush” and documentaries that have been pieced together with conventionally scripted interviews, this look at the breakneck sport portrays it as innocent, precious and pure. In many ways it is a love story between Stewart and his stunning childhood sweetheart (and then wife) Helen—who struggles to accept her husband’s life-threatening profession. Genuine moments of Stewart’s respect for the danger and courtesy to all people involved, make it clear how he became such a prominent advocate for safety in the sport. Along with Polanski’s own eager curiosity for racing, the film is not forced in anyway nor self-conscious. “Weekend of a Champion” is arguably the closest angle one can get to witnessing F1 racing in its adolescence.
“Weekend of a Champion” opens today, 22 November 2013 in New York at IFC, followed by LA next week and ultimately via Netflix in 2014.