I’ll take any mediocre film from the late 60’s or early 70’s over and better than average film from subsequent eras.
This is not to say that Downhill Racer is not mediocre. It simply has its fingers in too many pots and more style than substance. Part character study, part sports film, and part romance, the film often sets aside one aspect to devote itself to another. The picture is wonderfully shot, with a mixture of amazing action photography and graphically minded framing that looks exotic and lush. The entire picture inhabits the world of advertisements plucked right from a Playboy magazine of that era. Soft, warm lighting indoors, rich colors outdoors, the world of Downhill Racer looks like one big advert for European sport cars, hard liquor, and sporty attire. While the images are rich, the film should be championed, most of all, for its restraint, especially in dialogue and sound design.
The narrative to Downhill Racer is nothing new. Yet, it feels weighty, thoughtful, maybe even philosophical. For all its stylistic trappings, Downhill Racer is a pretty shallow, by-the-numbers film, but it does a great job of making you believe it has a lot more to offer. Part of the reason I compare it to old Playboy magazines and why it reminds me of those materials is because both strive to elevate their audience culturally, if only superficially.
I have always admired and questioned the articles and advertisements in dated men’s magazines. Cluing reader’s into the latest works by Mailer or the latest must have jazz albums, these enriching suggestions make the consumer both more cultured as well as more appealing to the opposite sex. Compared to today’s more brazen advertisements, like the Axe body spray commercials, the ads in 60’s and 70’s Playboy magazines promise a higher society to a middle ground consumer, not the other way around. It appears that today we’ve traded the illusion of elegance for in-your-face attitude.
Downhill Racer is the same; a smooth, sleek, and well-tempered film from a bygone era, one that does not seem as bombastic or clamorous as today’s sports films. At the same time, it is more style than substance, but it has enough style to seduce you.