Submarine Deluxe, a New York-based film distribution company, just announced it secured rights to Weekend of a Champion, the 1971 documentary film produced by filmmakers Frank Simon and Roman Polanski. The film, which follows world champion driver Jackie Stewart in his chase for the Monaco Grand Prix win, will be released in the Big Apple on November 22 and hit Netflix after a nationwide theatrical run.
The news comes more than four decades after the 1972 premiere of the original Polanski-directed version at the 1972 Berlin Film Festival. In making the documentary, Polanski spent a weekend with Stewart, enjoying unprecedented access to the racing great both on and off the track. The result is a rare and extraordinary glimpse into Stewart’s life at the height of his career. Stewart, a British former Formula One racing driver from Scotland dubbed the “Flying Scot,” was ranked fifth among the 50 greatest Formula One drivers of all time by automotive journalist Kevin Eason.
“He has not only emerged as a great driver, but one of the greatest figures of motor racing,” Eason wrote in his 2009 article.
Simon’s restored and updated version, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival in France earlier this year, keeps much of Polanski’s version intact, but revs it up a bit, according to film critic John Sharp of the Hollywood News.
“… The soundtrack of revving engines and screeching tires is utterly invigorating and builds the tension to the tremendously exciting climactic showdown. Then the camera pulls back from a hotel television to reveal Stewart and Polanski as they are now, sat in the exact suite in which they shared breakfast forty years ago.”
In that conversation footage, shot in 2011, Stewart and Polanski discuss the film, 1970s fashion and how Formula One has racing has changed over the years, particularly noting its high death rate. Stewart is known as a staunch advocate for racing safety measures, owing in part to his 1966 crash at the Belgian Grand Prix. He spent several frightening minutes trapped in his overturned racecar getting soaked by leaking fuel praying he wouldn’t catch fire. The marshals had no tools to help him and Stewart remained stuck until his teammates Graham Hill and Bob Bondurant, who also had crashed nearby, were able to get him out using a borrowed spanner from a spectator’s car. The incident led to a main switch to disconnect electronics and a removable steering wheel being standard in racecars since.
Of course, there’s no getting around the elephant in the room, so to speak. Weekend of a Champion was shot two years after Polanski lost his pregnant wife Sharon Tate in a Manson Family killing spree, and six years before he created his own infamy by violating a 13-year-old model. Perhaps it’s best to tuck that bit of information back into the further recesses of one’s brain. But racing fans should not miss this film.