Director Dunham’s thesis for Spirit of the Marathon is a little iffy. He clearly wants to show the differences and similarities between marathon runners–Dunham and the rest of the crew have zero presence in the documentary, which is fine (eventually). He goes from the people doing it for fun, to people doing it for personal achievement, to people competing for the win. He does a fantastic job evening out the attention he gives each subject.
But he doesn’t really learn anything. Or, if he does, he doesn’t tell. The film ends with postscripts, catching the viewer up with the Spirit’s ostensible subjects. Only, Dunham completely changes how the documentary functions once it gets to the Chicago Marathon, where all the subjects are running.
And the marathon stuff is fantastic. Christo Brock’s editing is great throughout Spirit, but the flow of the actual marathon is phenomenal. It races past, with Dunham concentrating most of the attention on the two professional runners. It becomes a traditional sports movie narrative and no one else’s story is particularly interesting, even when it hints at high drama. There just isn’t time for the regular folks.
Spirit of the Marathon is a little shallow, but it’s never insincere. It’s just too bad Dunham couldn’t figure out a way for the marathon to be glorious for everyone, not just the professionals. He was undoubtedly restricted while shooting the actual marathon but his solution makes those postscripts seem disingenuous on the documentary’s part.
Still, pretty good.
Directed by Jon Dunham; directors of photography, Dunham and Sarah Levy; edited by Christo Brock; music by Jeff Beal; produced by Dunham and Gwendolen Twist; released by Image Entertainment.