Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 August 2011
The title of Allen Guttmann's landmark study of sports history, From Ritual to Record, captures the way cinematic treatments of the Olympic Games, Europe's most resonant sporting invention, developed in the early twentieth century. Projected film and the modern Olympic Games began in the same year, 1896, and the way the two phenomena have grown together demonstrates a progression from formality and ritual to an ever-increasing emphasis on individual, nation and achievement. This transition from ritual to record is demonstrated by two Olympic films from the European Games of Paris 1924 and Amsterdam 1928, Les Jeux Olympiques Paris 1924 and De Olympische Spelen. These cinematic records are not only documentary records of the events they portray, but are an important reminder that modern sports are witnessed by most not as stadium spectators but as viewers – in the case of the 1924 and 1928 films, as members of a cinema audience. The film record is essential to our understanding of the popularisation of modern sports, while through their contrary impulses to document and to idealise (particularly through the use of slow-motion photography), the two films demonstrate what is meaningful about Olympic sport.