Portraying Sporting Masculinity through Film

Reflections on Jorgen Leth’s A Sunday in Hell

Authored by: Ian McDonald

Routledge Handbook of Sport, Gender and Sexuality

Print publication date:  February  2014
Online publication date:  March  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415522533
eBook ISBN: 9780203121375
Adobe ISBN: 9781136326967


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There is a very powerful and telling scene in A Sunday in Hell, Jorgen Leth’s 1976 documentary about the Paris–Roubaix cycling race. It is the final sequence, and is perhaps the most visually arresting scene of a visually striking film. The race has finished and the exhausted looking cyclists, mired in dirt, are shown showering and washing themselves in the ‘open-plan’ bathhouse. Amidst their number are journalists, coaches and officials: all are male. Some of the cyclists, naked, conduct interviews while showering, others are chatting to each other across the shower booth divide, while some seem to be in a world of their own. The camera follows one of the undoubted superstars of cycling, Eddy Merckx, who wears a weary and resigned look, before settling on his rival, an angry and agitated Roger de Vlaeminck. With the peeling paint and plaster on the walls as the backdrop to the rows of showering booths, the rival sportsmen enjoy their moment of camaraderie. The scene evokes a distinctly working-class male setting. The mood is manly without aggression, tender without eroticism, encapsulating an ambivalent sporting masculinity.

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