With ‘Weekend of a Champion,’ Roman Polanski resurrects a mild curio

Formula One star Jackie Stewart hangs with Roman Polanski in the 1972 documentary "Weekend of a Champion." Credit: Submarine Deluxe
Formula One star Jackie Stewart hangs with Roman Polanski in the 1972 documentary “Weekend of a Champion.”
Credit: Submarine Deluxe

‘Weekend of a Champion’
Directors: John Simon, Roman Polanski
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR
2 (out of 5) Globes

Documentaries in the 1970s weren’t the massive cottage industry they are now, and “Weekend of a Champion” — which never saw much of a release when made in 1972 and has been dusted off for no special reason other than why not? — suggests its makers didn’t quite know their way around the genre. The makers are no less than Roman Polanski and his friend John Simon, the latter who only made a few other, totally obscure movies. The subject is Jackie Stewart, a British (but Scots-accented) Formula One racer who won three World Drivers’ Championships.

Stewart’s razor sharp racing prowess contrasts nicely with his off-the-course persona, which is laidback, charming and talkative. That he’s incredibly articulate is especially impressive because he suffers from extreme dyslexia, to the point where he actually cannot read and has never learned how. “Weekend of a Champion” hangs with him during the lead-up to a Monte Carlo race, and he’s a gregarious, lovely person to spend a movie with. Polanski — who sort of resembles Stewart, especially as both were rocking bushy, straggly ‘dos that were the style of the time — mostly hangs off-screen, but occasionally slips into the frame so that we can enjoy the company of two of the hottest, if not necessarily classically attractive, superstars of the era.

And that’s pretty much it. Stewart drags the cameraman onto a lap he does at a relatively normal speed, to show what the track looks like when he’s not speeding down it. But such stylistic gambits are few and far between. That, for the most part is, fine, considering Stewart’s extreme likability, if not magnetism.

Polanski’s likable, too, and on some level it’s refreshing seeing him in a less driven (if you will) mood. The director made the film in between his gruesome, bleak-o-rama 1971 “Macbeth” — his emotional response to the murder of Sharon Tate — and his libidinous Eurotrash 1972 whatzit “What?,” with “Chinatown” around the corner. There’s no sense of the traumatized Polanski here, except that this is a kind of vacation, and an attempt to tackle a form of the medium that was alien to him, as well as to most directors at the time.

Still, “Weekend of a Champion” is too diffuse and too light, and when it comes time for the big race itself, it founders. For obvious reasons, a camera is not strapped to Stewart’s car, but what was filmed and edited together is a formless mess. To make matters worse, appended on this new release is a 20-minute chat between Polanski and Stewart today which, while not without its merits — Stewart brings up how safe Formula One is today versus how absurdly, insanely, suicidally dangerous it was in his time — still goes on too long. A film that was merely affable becomes a mild irritation.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

National

Chelsea Clinton pregnant with first child

Chelsea Clinton is pregnant with her first child.

National

Divers struggle in search for South Korean ferry…

By Jungmin Jang and Narae KimMOKPO/JINDO, South Korea (Reuters) - Rescuers struggled with strong waves and murky waters on Thursday as they searched for hundreds…

National

New Hampshire moves to decriminalize adultery

For the first time in hundreds of years, it's about to be legal to cheat on your spouse in New Hampshire.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

Movies

Review: 'Fading Gigolo' finds few jokes in women…

John Turturro writes, directs and stars in "Fading Gigolo," in which he plays a prostitute whose pimp is Woody Allen. And there's still very few jokes.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

NHL

Rangers' speed versus Flyers' size makes interesting playoff…

Among the myriad aspects that will make this Metropolitan Division semifinal series fascinating will be the battle between the Rangers' speed and the Flyers' size,…

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.