Head, Body, Head, Body

The last two movies Julia and I saw in the theater were boxing-related movies, and we enjoyed them both. Watching them makes me wish for a couple things. First of all, that I didn’t have to pay exorbitant costs for cable television 24×7 just to watch a couple evenings a month of bouts I want to see, and secondly, I wish boxing were more popular than it is. It seems odd to me that boxing isn’t more popular, because as this article from Ring Magazine notes, Hollywood sure doesn’t have a problem getting studios behind the making of boxing movies.

Boxing movies have never had a problem earning critical acclaim. Two of them, Rocky and Million Dollar Baby, were named Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Another Best Picture winner, On The Waterfront, was about an ex-boxer. And a boxing movie that didn’t win Best Picture, Raging Bull, was recognized by many critics at the end of the 1980s as the best film of the decade.

To put things in perspective, in the entire 82-year history of the Oscars, only one sports movie that wasn’t about boxing, Chariots Of Fire, has ever won the top prize.

Think of the Bruce Willis segment of the classic Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, where he played a boxer. Classic! As a sport, though, boxing has itself to blame in many ways for its fall from grace. That, and the lack of real excitement in its money division, the heavyweights. Which is unfortunate, because Manny Pacquiao is a freakin’ living legend.

In the world of letters, boxing fiction has a great pulp tradition as well. I was inspired to write a tale of my own after reading a collection of Robert E. Howard‘s boxing stories; that story is appearing in the upcoming Kung Fu Factory special edition, which features stories all about fighting, being released by Crimefactory. So yeah, I’m a fan of The Sweet Science.

The Fighter

We saw this movie opening night this past Friday, and we both enjoyed the hell out of it. It’s the (based on a true) story of “Irish” Micky Ward and his half-brother, Dicky Ecklund. Micky is the younger brother being trained by his more famous brother, who squandered a boxing career of his own by succumbing to a drug habit. The primary characters are played by Mark Wahlberg (as Micky), Christian Bale (as Dicky), and Amy Adams (as Charlene Fleming, Micky’s girlfriend). All are excellent in their roles, with Bale getting the most acclaim, rightfully so, as the hyperactive older brother who has yet to live beyond a single moment in his boxing life where he put Sugar Ray Leonard on the mat. Melissa Leo turns in a fantastic performance as Alice Ward, the mother of the two men, as well.

To call this film simply a “boxing movie” sells it woefully short. It is about many things: family, loyalty, drug addiction, and redemption. There is also plenty of humor in it as well, more than in your average comedy these days. The characters are realistic because they are based on real people, and its obvious that the project was approached with a lot of love and respect by all people involved. I’d put this up there with such excellent boxing films as Cinderella Man and Million Dollar Baby, easily. Highly recommended. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Boxing Gym

Julia and I saw this at the legendary Loft Cinema while we were in Tucson last weekend. This little documentary isn’t your typical movie at all. It isn’t even your typical “documentary.” There’s no narration, no voice-over, no explanation, nothing. The camera simply serves as an eye into the goings-on at Lord’s Gym, an Austin, TX, boxing gym which was founded sixteen years ago by Richard Lord, a former professional boxer. From the gym’s website:

 

What you won’t find at Lord’s Gym:
People with fake tans in spandex
Girls in makeup
A date for Friday
A sales pitch every time you come in to workout
People looking to pick a fight

What you WILL FIND is:
A good solid workout
Professional boxing instruction
Results YOU can see in the mirror
A real gym environment, not a yuppie haven
Friendly and helpful training partners
A community of like-minded individuals
Busy people like YOU looking to get fit fast

Director Frederick Wiseman‘s camera follows all the different people working out at the gym — professional boxers, children, women, out-of-shape “normal” people looking to get fit; just about anyone you can imagine. It’s like taking a random sample of folks you might see while people watching at the mall and dropping them into shorts and boxing gloves and pointing them at a bag to take punches at. We also see owner Richard Lord and his trainers working people out, or watch Lord talk to newcomers from the office while signing them up to work out. It’s a simple concept that works. It probably isn’t for everybody, but I found the movie heartwarming in its way, and inspiring. I wish we had a straight-up boxing gym in Missoula.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=15197068&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0

Trailer for Frederick Wiseman’s BOXING GYM from Dossier on Vimeo.

8 thoughts on “Head, Body, Head, Body”

  1. >Makes me wonder if George in Tucson is still running a down-in-the-heels boxing gym. That place was not so different from Lord's. But there was one added attraction…George had a sideline business promoting midget wrestling. I got to see Mini Azteca put through his paces!

  2. >David, Cinderella Man really was good. I think you'd really like The Fighter.We should have gone to see if that gym is still in Tucson! Were the midget wrestlers luchadores? With a name like Mini Azteca, how could they not be?!

  3. >Wiseman's films are always fascinating. I might like this one. I've seen real professional boxing, and hearing punches landing is kind of visceral. Not like watching TV or the movies.A boxing memoir you might like is THE BULLET MEANT FOR ME, by Texas writer Jan Reid.

  4. >Ron, I know exactly what you mean. I was thinking that very thing watching the movie, just how much faster and almost frightening the real thing is. I'll definitely look into that memoir. Thanks for the tip!

  5. >I skipped into and was enjoying your website this morning and just had a small world moment. In 1982 I moved to Austin, TX for college and was competing as a pro kickboxer. I began training at '6th Street Boxing Gym' with another professional fighter, a lightweight boxer named Richard Lord. He went on and started Lord's Gym and I went the karate way Austin Martial Arts. I ran into Richard recently and he told me about this film made about his gym, the one you're talking about – can't wait to see it! Also, did you know that Bruce Lee said there were only two people he'd be afraid of being in a dark alley with. One was Mike Stone(he was a World Karate Champion in the 1960's and is better known as the guy that Elvis Presley's wife left Elvis for). The other is a man that lives in Missoula, Montana. His name is Jim Harrison and is a legend in the martial arts world, and one of the pioneers of martial arts in America. Jim Harrison was a World and United States Karate Champion many times over, and was the winner of the first Official Kickboxing fight ever held in America! He was also my neighbor when I was a kid growing up in Kansas City.His sons were my friends and neighbors when I was growing up. Jim Harrison is a unique and genuine man, and has had a very different and exciting life. Knowing him also became my destiny as he ignited my interest in the martial arts. If there was ever a man to make an exciting film about, it would be him!

  6. >Jim Harrison was a big part of my initial interest in martial arts too, though I never actually pursued it. His dojo used to do demonstrations at the fair every summer, and I was blown away by it. He had a dojo on 3rd in Missoula that my older sister's boyfriend trained at, and one of my friends ultimately did too. It's a tropical fish store now, though I think he might have another one in town now. I'll have to look into it.I've heard that Bruce Lee quote before as well, but had forgotten all about it. I've heard a few "Jim stories" from people who knew him. Thanks for reminding me, and thanks for stopping by! Small world indeed. . . .

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