Of the worlds sportsmen and women few have climbed as high and fallen from the pinnacle of their sport than Lance Armstrong.
Relentless in overcoming challenge he propelled his smallish frame forward on a mere cycle to which he was as one. The slender American found dynamics and the science and art of cycling entirely.
The Armstrong Lie. released. 2013 is the Alex Gibney film which in the event of Lance Armstrong facing up to the insurmountable wall of evidence surrounding his career, Gibney produces a Mea Minima Culpa which focuses on his return to the Tour de France in 2009.
It follows his Mea Maxima Culpa which undermined another circus, that of the Vatican which has under served the religion and faith of the many. If you disagree with this opinion then see the Northern Ireland produced film. The film may have had a positive effect in essence.
There are valid elements of confession in the strong and salutary examination made by the filmmaker whose apparent motives, and why question him, was to see the comeback of 2009 as a memorable rising of a Phoenix from the allegations and one of a reformed and contrite Athlete. It’s an odd one. The biometrics of the physique of Lance Armstrong is held in the brain map LA holds himself.
Having gone through the industrial destruction of the cancer virus that began its journey through testicular cancer; it shot through the complex physiology that his body was as a cycling athlete and that he had managed for his cycling climb to the top until it coursed through him internally reaching his brain, he won his life’s greatest battle. An incredible journey he built his own foundation on.
The story of the fight against cancer truly was reinforced by the character shaping that began in his youth. When forced to change by anyone in his space, his orbit of living the dream he replied consciously “You are not my Father” referring to the Father he never knew. He would prescind his life in that little remark. It comes out during interviews and the commentary over the widescreen landscapes travelled in the Tour de France by him from 1999 to 2005. This film accesses virtually all areas but includes only an interior of the coach pre-race in a pep talk without the adulterating peps. It moves swiftly across team mates, doctors, journalists, aggrieved (Landis) competitors with few spectators being involved except as the overseeing duped followers of the sport.
Such is the need to remain with the subject of ‘sporting’ endurance in a single human being, the apparatus around this entire circus colourfully and spectacularly provides a vision of landscape terrain and shining beautiful parts of this planet exposed in the subject matter of slight human beings strung out in a frenetic galloping ant train dissecting areas normally calmed by a Citroen 2CV, camper van or EuroHGV.
One little film balancing act is delightfully, cynically?, thrown in which shows the joyful image familiar when a newspaper needs a wide colourfull image to show it is summer again. In three 5 second foreground shots Alex Gibney offers up 1. The Hay rolls in the cut straw fields. 2. The spread of Sunflowers. 3. The River gently passing under the Viaduct, complete with staged bathers.
The imagery is impressive as is the psychology of Lance Armstrong who in the face of truth starts redefining what truth is or can become. Various takes on score settling are treated within the narrative and the more damaging the less interested or so the assured Lance Armstrong has it, he takes it. He is in a place where his discernment of motive particularly of others is acute and unknown to us and he makes full use of it. To err is human and he happened on most occasions, still probably, to be the smartest guy in the room wherever that room happened to be. Where he erred others erred less brilliantly. So no need for spoiler alerts, Mea Media Culpa.
What he did in reaction to his cancer and the war he won against his enemy is or has not been a false journey. He bounced back and by the example of competing, taking all the treatments, all the injected fluids, all the drugs, to keep going he took them all.
In every encounter with another sufferer he encouraged their fight. He inspired and as one little girl asked why he cycled he off shot appeared to confess for the money which was readily absorbed by the unconcerned youngster.
The awareness of self and limits of the body he attained cannot just have been found in the science that ‘said’ in order to compete in endurance races your blood needs to be capable of delivering oxygen to your muscles in red blood cells and the heart can drive that exchange. Using a commodity which made the red cells prolong the period of functionality and was a simple compound which was emitted from the bodies system without (that was not cleared up if I remember correctly) effect in four hours, then it is equivalent to a fuel stop in Formula 1. Not the actions of a sportsman or woman but that of a competitor, competing against others on the basis they were, those at the sharp end, using the same methods themselves. What stood apart was his urge to do it while knowing it was the only way of succeeding in this endurance sport, for which he had mastered his body and will into becoming the best.
He had not reckoned until he reached the top, the perverse sacrifices needed to prove himself and it became clear when it was that way or no way, he took himself over the line of competition ethics to prove something to himself and others despite the toll it would take. As someone who began with the thought of winning fairly delivering just reward, he had yet to be put in a situation were to win, to reach the very top he would have to sacrifice a part of himself, a self marker, one perhaps he had not fully controlled in his formative years due to his own lack of clarity of who he was within his circle. Despite that drawback he kicked on remarkably.
What we have to recognise is the punishment of endurance still exists, the limits mental and physical are in the territory of endeavor stretched with or without the adulterations. The miles, the mind play, the recklessness, the fight, the single-mindedness, sheer will, stamina and each daily focus had to take place in the heat of the day with the world watching on. It must be acknowledged in the face of everything.
Of his return I can’t see a man who has been through the mill trying to give his body a further crack at living abusing that by unintelligent actions. The other absurdity of blood doping where you replaced your exhausted blood with a fresh quantity is quaintly worthy of the finest ridicule in which the French can deliver in gallons. He was very silly when he went to such lengths as confessed.
To compare it to steroids which have a life threatening and prolonged effect on the body is not in the same room.
To cheat is to cheat. That is clear. What we have here is deception on a grand scale. Of self and spectator.
The film is a lesson on individual strength. A contest of will within the self when a experience, of winning competitively with the little old you as the sole instigator; his winning as a cyclist began seriously at aged 16, it becomes a fight amongst those elements of yourself still unshared or formed and making up for the absences, be it father, faith, friendship or whatever deficiency you may call upon. Finding himself capable at a level which secures the future has been enough for that taster to define his approach to most things.
There are greater hill climbs in peoples lives and I believe he has always known that and the only advice he is capable of taking is his own. While the circus involves a lot of viewer acceptance as a ‘fair’ contest and themselves offer it validation it need not become a case of pouring scorn and ingratitude on the bold LA, instead he presents fallibility in many revolutions.
***3 This well edited fascinating documentary. Most archives of news agencies, sports casts, in house footage solidifies and underpins a complex weave of a ‘story’. It opens up wider scrutiny of the motivations and the narrative has in it a non- judgmental investigation given the agreement of access into the return of LA and at the edge of the sporting action, not in it wholly.
For the sports fan and investigative media student as well as the casual viewer interested in an astonishing web of intrigue.
The psychology is impenetrable for all but the machined consultant whose reaction might include merit addiction.
29 January 2014
Belfast. Northern Ireland.
The Armstrong Lie
Friday 31 January to Thursday 6 February 2014
QFT Queens Film Theatre