Founder of the New York City Marathon and trailblazer for legions of Central Park joggers, the late Fred Lebow brought an eclectic pastime from the Bronx of the late 1960s to the world stage. But judging from the documentary Run for Your Life, Lebow’s physical endurance as a runner wasn’t as intriguing as his sheer determination to succeed as a promoter of the sport. Indeed, this Tribeca Fest entry isn’t the sports documentary one would expect, but rather the story of a Jewish immigrant who fled Romania and realized the American dream by transforming himself from a garment-district counterfeiter to a marathon legend. Lebow was quite the salesman, whose early success entirely hinged on his Pied Piper–like power of persuasion. He apparently also pioneered the concepts of corporate sponsorship and the media blitz. Director Judd Ehrlich evenhandedly explores controversies surrounding the marathon and probes into its founder’s dark side, with interviewees variously characterizing Lebow as a womanizer, manipulator, and dictator. It’s an absorbing tale, even for those who don’t much care for sports. The film is exceptionally slick, to the point of being over-scored, over-edited, and over-digitized: aestheticism in nonfiction work is certainly welcome in this DV age, but in its gratuitous and indiscriminate use of visual effects to distort archival images and text, Run for Your Life crosses a line.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 22, 2008