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  Weekend of a Champion Driving AmbitionBuy this film here.
Year: 1972
Director: Frank Simon, Roman Polanski
Stars: Jackie Stewart, Roman Polanski, Helen Stewart, Ken Tyrrell, Graham Hill, François Cevert, Ronnie Peterson, Prince Rainier III, Grace Kelly, Joan Collins, Ringo Starr, various
Genre: Documentary
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix is being held today, but one of the leading drivers in the sport is not happy. He is Scottish competitor Jackie Stewart and as he makes his way to the streets by the harbour that have been converted, as always, into a racing track he casts a wary eye at the stormclouds gathering overhead and remarks to his wife Helen that the conditions could be treacherous by the looks of things. Nevertheless, he will persevere, and walks to his car among the adoring fans, waving to them as he goes. Is he right and will the weather prove too dangerous to compete in, or will he go on to another famous victory with the world championship within his grasp?

Well, it's a matter of record that Jackie Stewart was indeed World Champion of Formula 1 in 1971, but it can still be interesting looking back to see his methods for achieving that success. Hence Weekend of a Champion has been of great interest down the years, partly because of its scarcity for aside from a few cinema dates in Europe back in 1972, the best bet you had for catching it afterwards was the rare television broadcast. In fact, it was nearly lost forever but someone contacted director Roman Polanski to ask if he minded if the negative was destroyed in a warehouse clear out; he did mind, he minded very much, and rescued the film, recut it to make it brisker, and added a coda with himself and Stewart captured in Monaco forty years after the original documentary, in the very hotel room one of its most celebrated scenes took place.

What did Roman Polanski have to do with this, anyway? He and Stewart had become friends after the director became engrossed in motorsport, and this film was a way of reflecting that interest, though having been more adept at fiction he was less confident about factual filmmaking and hired former cinematographer turned director for hire Frank Simon to helm the camera. That said, it was still Polanski calling the shots since he was producer, so technically you could still call this part of his canon, and the camaraderie between him and Stewart was what buoyed the narrative, which could have been rather basic, as any number of other, formulaic motor racing documentaries would be. The action was of a fine quality, with trackside footage making up for a lack of clarity in precisely how the race was going, but what made Weekend of a Champion invaluable to fans and a path in to the sport for the casual viewer were those scenes of Stewart discussing his job.

There's no doubt about it, Stewart was a brilliant driver, but what was really brought home when watching was how lucky (or skilled) he was to emerge from the Formula 1 of the nineteen-sixties and -seventies with his life. Both he and Helen point out the danger involved in participating, the sobering statistic that they have lost five of their closest friends over the period Stewart had taken part one you're not likely to forget, and that number would only rise, sad to say: Frenchman François Cevert, a dashing playboy of the sport who Stewart mentored, is seen often in this, but would be dead in a couple of years. You can well understand why Stewart campaigned tirelessly for better road safety, not just in Grand Prix but for the public as well, he knew only too well the toll of the terrible tragedy that could occur. It was aspects like that which gave the film an edge, sure there was good humour and Stewart's charisma, but he made sure we never forgot this was often a deadly occupation. As an aside, elsewhere was the final big screen appearance of Grace Kelly, among other celebrity cameos.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Roman Polanski  (1933 - )

French-born Polish director who has been no stranger to tragedy - his mother died in a concentration camp, his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson family - or controversy - he was arrested for raping a 13-year-old girl in the late 1970s.

Polanski originally made an international impact with Knife in the Water, then left Poland to make Cul-de-Sac and Repulsion in Britain. More acclaim followed with Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown in Hollywood, but his work after escaping America has been inconsistent. At his best, he depicts the crueller side of humanity with a pitch black sense of humour. He also takes quirky acting roles occasionally.

Other films include Dance of the Vampires, adaptations of Macbeth and Tess, What?, The Tenant, dire comedy Pirates, thriller Frantic, the ridiculous Bitter Moon, Death and the Maiden and The Ninth Gate. He won an Oscar for directing Holocaust drama The Pianist, which he followed with an adaptation of Oliver Twist and political thriller The Ghost; he nearly did not complete the latter having been re-arrested on that rape charge. Next were adaptation of stage plays Carnage and Venus in Fur.

 
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