The relationship between sport and aesthetics illustrated by two classic cycling films
This article invites historians to reconsider the nature of sport, which is here defined as essentially aesthetic. The sporting aesthetic, however, is a by-product of competition as athletes struggle to outperform their rivals and to overcome their own limitations. It is argued here that these aesthetic qualities have been captured in two documentaries by the Danish film-maker J rgen Leth - Stars and Water Carriers (1974) and A Sunday in Hell (1976) covering the 1973 Giro d'Italia and the 1976 Paris-Roubaix cycle races respectively. Leth's films effectively challenged contemporary Marxist views that sport was simply a banal distraction or a means of legitimizing the capitalist system. Their power, it is suggested, lies in their depiction of grand, heroic themes that echo classical myth and legend. Indeed, sport's enduring popularity may reside in its capacity to offer a glimpse of an mythological universe that has been marginalized by modernity.