Weekend Of A Champion


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

"This film shows better than any documentary on the development of safety gear for drivers, cars and roads could ever do why the changes in the sport were necessary."

The joy and the worry on Formula One racing driver Jackie Stewart's face never speak of the death drive in Frank Simon's beautifully candid Weekend Of A Champion, possibly the film showing the least self-destructive behavior I have seen all year.

Roman Polanski's weekend with Stewart shows both men with substantial sideburns and the feathery disheveled cool early Seventies hair. They come across as uncynical and very focused on racing. Stewart seems unselfconscious, signing autographs, feeding flowers to a donkey at a party, walking around in his white jockey underpants before layering up for the race.

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It's Saturday morning, Polanski and Stewart are seen having grapefruit and croissants in his hotel suite discussing seat belts, abrupt corners and the strain on his neck. He describes how a headband can change the way a car drives and even if you haven't had any interest in the sport previously, you might get into it now. Polanski draws a road on the white tablecloth, a small packet of butter becomes a car and a big coffee stain suddenly signals the danger of an oil spill in your head.

Stewart clarifies the relationship as 'be kind and the car is more docile'. When he cuts himself while shaving, he shouts for Polanski to come to the bathroom and film it, because Roman "likes blood in his movies." The real violence comes with the race. I became a little car sick watching it.

Monaco, May 1971 - the 29th Grand Prix of Monte Carlo - Scottish racing champion Jackie Stewart and his friend, filmmaker Roman Polanski walk and talk and drive us through this eventful weekend. Princess Grace and Prince Rainier will be watching. Thursday, says the title on the screen and we are in the car with Stewart who explains the particularities of the race - when to change gear, at which curve to slow down, or how to take the tunnel. And it sounds as if he really explains to make himself understood, not to fake it. "Then you pass this truck," he jokes because this is obviously not the real race and the streets of Monte Carlo are not yet completely transformed into the playground of this important sporting event.

The weather conditions are everything and the choice of tires for rain or sunshine can not only be the deciding factor for winning, they can mean life or death. This is the actual subject of Weekend Of A Champion, consisting mainly of the 1971 footage plus a present day appendix where Stewart and Polanski discuss the change in security of the sport. Between 1968 and 1973 the statistics were staggering. "One out of three that I would survive, two out of three that I would be killed," Stewart comments.

Jackie and his wife Helen, who is also seen in the footage, recounted that 53 people they knew, "five of our best friends were killed." It has now been 18 years since a driver lost his life in a Formula One race. This film shows better than any documentary on the development of safety gear for drivers, cars and roads could ever do why the changes in the sport were necessary.

The footage of the two men talking in the same Monte Carlo Hotel suite 40 years later is revealing and displays the same tenderness and fun they shared in the past. Polanski mocks Stewart's driving, gesticulating wildly with jittery arms. "Where is that smoothness you were talking about?" And Stewart explains again, calmly, sincerely, how not to upset the car while they go for another drive on the streets of Monte Carlo, past the yachts and into the tunnel.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2013
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Portrait of Jackie Stewart on the weekend of his victory at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
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Director: Frank Simon

Starring: Roman Polanksi, Jackie Stewart

Year: 2013

Runtime: 80 minutes

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