There was a time when the Olympics didn’t take over your television sets for a full two week block. Before the advent of same-day satellite footage, a team of filmmakers would throw together Olympic highlights into a newsreel type of documentary so people could, if just for a couple of hours, participate in the current happenings overseas. By 1976 though, the ability to broadcast from overseas left these films behind as an obsolete entity. That being said, “White Rock,” a film documenting the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Games, stands as both the final Olympic film of this nature and perhaps one of the greatest.
The film was directed by Tony Maylam, at the time a concert-film director, and starred James Coburn. I’ve only seen it all the way through once, as it is an extremely rare thing to find, but I’ve been smitten with it since. Before clips of the actual events are shown, Coburn introduces each segment by participating in said event at some capacity, the best being his brief stint as a hockey goalie. The copy of the film I watched was passed on to my brother from a friend who used to work at the NBC archives. Apparently getting drunk and watching “White Rock” had become a favorite activity of theirs, and I can see why. The film is beautifully shot, but also somewhat over the top. On occasion I will scour YouTube in hopes that clips have popped up. Up until today, my search was in vain, the film forever being shrouded in mystery to me. But now, I’m so very pleased that I get to share these wonderful clips with you. I think the thing that makes this such a wonderful film is the soundtrack. Rick Wakeman’s soundtrack (yeah, that Rick Wakeman, the one from YES) makes the Olympics seem otherworldly, like they really were taking place somewhere very far away. With the constant contact we have via satellite during the present-day Olympics, we forget that they really can be happening halfway around the world.
Unfortunately that goalie segment I mentioned isn’t up online, but I’ll keep looking. Let’s just thank our lucky stars that someone is making sure this beautiful time capsule isn’t lost.