“What we attempt to do is take the position that the audience is as smart as we are, [so] we don’t have to say, ‘Isn’t this incredible?’ ” So explains Bud Greenspan of his approach to filming the Olympic games, his obsession for more than 50 years. Greenspan’s comments also encapsulate why sports media in the U.S.—on cable in particular—is far more sophisticated than most TV news. At the Heart of the Games benefits considerably from this depth, though this profile of Greenspan occasionally feels like a mawkish tribute thrown together by old friends.
The story of how Greenspan got started is a gem: Before lucking into a job that enabled him to basically invent sports-talk radio during WWII, Greenspan had been an extra at the Metropolitan Opera. In 1951, he learned that John Davis, a gold-medal weight lifer at the 1948 games, would be singing with the Met. Greenspan borrowed $5,000 from his father to make a film about Davis at the 1952 Helsinki games, then sold the film to the U.S. State Department (for use as anti-Soviet propaganda) for $20,000.
Greenspan became an Olympics regular for a variety of outlets, coming into his own when he was hired to make the official film of the 1984 L.A. games. (Greenspan’s wife died shortly beforehand, and a friend’s account of how he convinced the director to keep working sends us off on a bizarre tangent.) Heart takes a defensive position toward critics who call his work treacle, but conversations with athletes he filmed in Los Angeles (including Mary Lou Retton and British runner Dave Moorcroft) reveal that the same techniques that got Greenspan labeled a sap can succeed brilliantly at conveying action from an athlete’s point of view.