Frank Simon’s documentary Weekend of a Champion sounds like a dated joke: Roman Polanski, Jackie Stewart, and a cameraman walk into a bar in 1971, chatting garrulously about racing cars and the ins and outs of Formula One, with Stewart on the verge of once again winning the Monaco Grand Prix. There isn’t a punch line, of course, but the results are amusing nonetheless.
Stewart, found here at the height of his prowess and celebrity, proves a rather charming and loquacious subject, long ago inured to the spotlight and thus comfortable indulging our interest with candor. And you could do much worse, as a career driver, than to have Polanski along as chronicler and companion.
A lifelong enthusiast of motor sports and then a close friend to Stewart, Polanski appears to have produced and financed Weekend of a Champion almost as a pretense for an all-access pass to the track.
But the result is a pleasure, perhaps as much for audiences as for Polanski; it’s a chance to luxuriate in the atmosphere of world-class Formula One, here a lavish free-love party interrupted now and again by a few laps on the track.
In a way, Weekend of a Champion is less about the sport than the extravagant lifestyle sports stardom apparently precipitates — the tireless carousing, the inexhaustible atmosphere of celebration. Stewart and Polanski potter about Monaco like kings surveying the scope of their lands.