nyone who has done competitive distance running finds it a challenge
to be objective about Steve Prefontaine. He was the Muhammad
Ali of the sport: a popularizer, a matinee idol, a big mouth
who made promises and usually delivered on them.
had an aggressive style both on and off the track, running with
fierce intensity in the middle of the race to try to break faster
runners because he didn’t have that great a final "kick."
When he took the national two-mile record in high school, he
shaved seven seconds off the previous mark, and eventually captured
seven American records between 2,000 and 10,000 meters. No US
runner before or since has had the best times at so many different
openly criticized the venality and hypocrisy of the American
Athletic Union, which kept athletes in penury to maintain their
amateur status (Pre himself lived on food stamps after competing
in the 1972 Olympics), and gave others the courage to break
the system after his James Dean-like death in a one-car accident
at the age of 24.
twentieth anniversary of Prefontaine’s untimely 1975 passing
awakened a slew of memories among his fans, which resulted in
two separate feature films ("Prefontaine"—a 1997 pseudo
bio-pic by the makers of "Hoop Dreams"—and the glossier
"Without Limits" a year later). This documentary beat
them out of the blocks.
on the Track: The Steve Prefontaine Story" is visually
sharp. There’s plenty of action footage, great stills, and on-camera
comments by everyone from runners who raced him, coaches who
trained him, and sportswriters who covered him, to girlfriends
and former runner and rabid fan Dana Carvey. It’s a shame the
filmmakers didn’t manage to get a couple minutes with another
noted Pre fan, Tom Cruise, who was one of the executive producers
of "Without Limits." In archival interview footage
from early in his career, Prefontaine himself sounds like—I
swear—Roger McGuinn! Interviewees are wisely shot at subtly
different angles and distances, as well as being placed before
a wide variety of backgrounds—from tracks to mountain vistas
to a commercial fishing boat basin … even a castle.
couple really nice touches: At the climax of his attempt at
the tender age of 21 to beat the best in the world in the 1972
Olympic 5,000 meters (a few days after the slaying of the Israeli
athletes), the film suddenly breaks the crowd roar with 200
meters left to show coach Bill Dellinger, a three-time Olympian,
quietly speaking of his admiration for his protégé’s
guts. And after telling the viewer repeatedly about "Pre’s
people," the devoted fans who constituted his second wind,
the film offers clips during the credits of nearly a dozen unknowns
off the street talking about Pre.
afraid the writing is not on a par with the visuals, however.
Early on, Pre’s home stadium of Hayward Field is called "the
Carnegie Hall of track"—a simile I find unintelligible
except in the vaguest terms. His home town is too easily nutshelled
with the usual clichés: "from the hillside shriek
of the saws to the thunder of the docks … Things have always
been tough in Coos Bay."
soundtrack, what there is of it, is energizing but unobtrusive:
a little slide guitar, some caustic electric lead, but rarely
more than 15 seconds at a time.
producer Hollister was a designer at Nike, we get not only justified
references to Prefontaine’s relationship with the firm through
coach and co-founder Bill Bowerman and his "waffle"
training shoes, but the comments of Phil Knight, ad clips of
Agassi, Barkley and McEnroe, and most annoying, the pointless
appearance of the Nike swoosh over the otherwise classy image
of a footprint in the sand that concludes the film.
Kesey narrates. His boyish, slightly folksy voice is neither
instantly recognizable nor particularly imposing. He has a tendency
to drop a word or name at the end of a sentence so that you
can’t fully catch it, and the music sometimes obscures him.
But as a fellow state resident and alumnus of the University
of Oregon (he lettered in wrestling, not running), he was a
decent choice for the job.
is a kind of arc to the runner’s brief life from cocky youth
to calmer maturity that is particularly mirrored in the attitudes
of Mac Wilkins, the world-class discus thrower who was a classmate
of Pre’s at Oregon. Annoyed that the runner got so much attention
from girls and the press (Pre made the cover of Sports Illustrated
as "America’s Distance Prodigy" his freshman year),
Wilkins sarcastically nicknamed him "World" for world-famous.
Later, the disc tosser explains that Prefontaine’s seeming arrogance
"was him just being focused and honest," and in recalling
the runner’s death Wilkins tearfully states they had a lot in
I say, it’s difficult to know how well this trim package of
war stories, racing footage, peppy music, and faces familiar
only to the sport’s aficionados would touch a general viewer,
but I think he or she would find the movie at least mildly engaging.
For a small-time project made by non-film industry professionals,
it’s pretty good.
Loftus came of age in Coos Bay, entered Prefontaine’s high school
four years after the star graduated, met Pre his first week
of school, jogged a little way with the older runner after he
witnessed Loftus’s first junior varsity race, and broke Pre’s
freshman two-mile record before getting distracted by other
activities. David Loftus,
Writer - AllWatchers.com
Kesey, Kenny Moore, Erich Lyttle—Writers