For Your Life
For Your Life
(2008) DVD Released October, 2008
Produced by Judd Ehrlich
The history of running in New York City stretches back over 100 years, including the establishment of the New York Athletic Club in 1868 and the finish of the first marathon on American soil at Columbus Circle in 1896. Through the years many New York promoters knew how to pack the house for indoor marathons, match races on horse racing tracks or six day endurance races but one man had the passion, the nerve and the vision to make his event a city-stopping, global phenomenon.
Welcome to the story of Fred Lebow and the New York City Marathon.
"Run For Your Life" is an historical gem, chronicling the evolution of Lebow from runner and race director to maestro of the whirlwind the five-borough marathon has become.
Through archival footage and stills of the early days when the marathon was run in loops within Central Park, featuring such legends as Ted Corbitt, to the classic citywide battles of Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers, Grete Waitz and Joan Benoit Samuelson, the energy, excitement and stunning spectacle of the race comes alive.
Even if you lived through the running boom years and knew Fred Lebow from coverage in running magazines and on tv, this very detailed story really fills in the gaps. It fleshes out how he managed to take over New York every November and drive his marathon to worldwide notoriety. It didn't just happen. He was a hustler, a conniver, skirting the rules, making up his own, doing whatever it took to get the job done. Many great runners such as Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Nina Kucsik and Kathrine Switzer appear to give first person accounts of life within the world of Lebow.
One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is the build up to the 1976 New York City Marathon, the first to run through all five of the city's boroughs. People said it couldn't be done, how could you close the city? The logistics were staggering. Most New Yorkers had never seen a marathon before. Would anyone care? The start on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge would be a sight no one had ever seen, but would become an epic symbol of the running boom. There is no success like success in New York, and Lebow managed to conquer and celebrate the city at the same time.
It wasn't all smooth sailing for Lebow. The movie doesn't shy away from the controversies, including under the table deals to runners, competition for talent with his archrival marathon in Chicago and the fraud of Rosie Ruiz.
It's with the story of Rosie Ruiz that the film stumbles. The director presents her as having lied about completing the NYC marathon and fraudulently getting a finisher's certificate. What he fails to mention is that this was merely a sidebar story to the fact the Ruiz claimed to have WON the women's division in the 1980 Boston Marathon when she was obviously not an elite runner and had cheated by only running the last few miles. How you can discuss the infamous Rosie Ruiz scandal and not mention Boston, I do not know.
The film has an enjoyable style, employing a retro, seventies urban funk soundtrack. Vintage footage is mixed with recent interviews and still photos are given depth and dimension through special computer effects. While the movie flows nicely when focused on New York and the race, it bogs down a little when covering Fred's childhood and romantic life.
All is absolutely forgiven though, in light of the stunning and heart wrenching ending which will move anyone who sees it.
The DVD is available
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