Weekend of a Champion (1972, 2013)
Directed by Frank Simon, Roman Polanski
Written by Frank Simon
Produced by Roman Polanski, Mark Stewart, Timothy Burrill
Starring Jackie Stewart, Helen Stewart, Roman Polanski, Ken Tyrrell
“There are other things in Monaco, and the other things are not a mere sideshow of the Casino. The Casino itself continues progressively to become the sideshow, a relic of a Golden Age that is irrecoverable. Monte Carlo is the place where the motor rally is held, where international conferences meet in the functional new centres, where Cousteau pursues his oceanographical researches. It is the place where people come to start businesses, unhindered by a crippling tax system that seems, to most of us, to represent a more terrible immorality than could ever be attached to merely spinning a roulette wheel.”
–Anthony Burgess, The Ball is Free to Roll, 1978
On the curving Circuit de Monaco in preparatory reconnaisance, in a garage where he confers with his sponsor Ken Tyrrell, engineers and other members of his pit crew as they tune and adjust his custom-built Tyrrell 003 to his scrupulous satisfaction, fraternizing with fans who won a contest by Monte Carlo’s harbor, speeding through a Formula 3 practice run to maintain his pole position, dining at the spicy birthday party of interwar racing champion Louis Chiron, discussing subtleties of his hazardous craft with Polanski as they share a ritzy breakfast in his hotel suite, and constantly accompanied by his wife Helen, Formula 1’s lovably loquacious and Falstaffian superstar Jackie Stewart basks anxiously in Monaco in May, 1971 during a few days anteceding his second of three blistering wins at the Monaco Grand Prix. Simon’s and Polanski’s immersive direction yields an absolutely absorbing portrait of the famed racer, his friendship with Romek, and a momentous victory concluding the Grand Prix that’s shot and cut with thrilling pizzazz. Other highlights include: over-the-shoulder shots of Stewart’s rainy trial drive along the Monégasque course’s tight hairpins, strategic chicanes, disorienting tunnel and varied elevations; the champ’s exposition of his meticulous methodology and its delicate techniques; fleeting footage of his competing protégé, the dashing and tragic François Cevert; congenial confabulation with Graham Hill, who’s here still a formidable rival, if a couple years past his celebrated prime; a fete hosted by Prince Rainier and Princess Grace also attended by Joan Collins and Ringo Starr, et al. An epilog suffixed to the recut, remixed re-release by Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment finds Stewart and Polanski contemporarily contemplating spectacular (and often spectacularly survived) crashes, miraculous advances in safety for motorsports credited to improved practices, tracks, medical facilities, and automotive engineering that he’s insistently boosted for years (after an outrageous crash at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in 1966), Stewart’s dyslexia that was diagnosed well after his racing career had ended, the development of Monte Carlo’s local industry and enlarged harbor, and its anfractuous track’s gently graded curbs and brighter, longer tunnel — luxuries he and his competitors weren’t afforded forty years before. Much of this may not engage laymen, but for fans of Formula 1, sociable Stewart, or Polanski, it’s one among several indispensable historical records of colorful cynosures prosecuting the twentieth century’s fastest fatal bloodsport.