Arguably the best film ever made about professional cycling” Peter Cowie, International Film Guide
Paris–Roubaix is the most famous and usually the most dramatic of the spring classics. Much of the latter portion is over narrow, cobbled tracks that choke with dust on dry days and become slick and muddy in rain. For the riders it’s a challenge to keep going without puncturing or crashing.
The film captures not just the events of the 1976 edition but the atmosphere of a professional race. It begins by introducing the contenders: Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck (the previous year’s winner), Freddy Maertens, and Francesco Moser, each with their supporting riders (the domestiques), who are charged with helping their team leader win. The film gives views of the team directors, protesters (the race is halted for a while), spectators, mechanics and riders. As the cobbled section is entered the selection begins. Riders puncture, crash, make the wrong move – the race plays out. By the finish in the velodrome in Roubaix only a few are in with a chance. The winner is a surprise, but that is part of the appeal. Post-race the exhausted riders, mired in dirt, give interviews in the velodrome’s showers.
In 1976, Danish film maker, Jørgen Leth, embarked on an ambitious project to capture the spirit of Paris-Roubaix, cycling’s toughest and cruellest ‘Monument’, in a new and epic way.
Leth planned to show every moment of significance during the day, to portray its heroes – Roger de Vlaeminck, Eddy Merckx, Freddy Maertens – as mythical figures and to use radical sound and visual techniques.
Award winning author and journalist William Fotheringham regards ‘A Sunday in Hell’ as the greatest film about cycling ever made. Inspired by hosting a Q&A with the director in 2010 Fotheringham decided to write a biography of the film, how it was conceived, how it was made, what happened on the day, who took those dramatic images and wrote that epic soundtrack, and what became of those larger than life participants.
Join William for a screening of A Sunday in Hell in Garter Lane Arts Centre and participate in the post film Q&A. Signed copies of his book about the film, ‘Sunday in Hell: Behind the Lens of the Greatest Cycling Film of All Time’, will be available to purchase after the event.
William Fotheringham writes about cycling and rugby for The Guardian and is the author of Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike, Bernard Hinault and the Fall and Rise of French Cycling, Bradley Wiggins – My Time and Put Me Back on My Bike: In Search of Tom Simpson.
Ticket price for this event is €12/ €8 concession
Commentary in Danish with English subtitles
“You can see every bead of sweat on the cyclists and every smashed-up ankle. It really makes you never want to get on a bike again. But it is an amazing film.” – Nick Fraser, BBC commissioning editor
A SUNDAY IN HELL (Jørgen Leth, 1976) from Spectacle Theater on Vimeo.