The plots are usually the same, in essence the character types vary little, and the hero will usually come out on top no matter what series of misdemeanors he may find himself in, but just what is it that attracts
The plots are usually the same, in essence the character types vary little, and the hero will usually come out on top no matter what series of misdemeanors he may find himself in, but just what is it that attracts us as an audience to watch the classic boxing drama? With the UK release of The Fighter this week, and it’s promise during this years awards season, it seems our love for the canvas upon the silver screen has yet diminished. Will Hitchmough finds out why.
Boxing on film have been around since film was invented. Silent replays of grainy black and white boxing footage drew the crowds to the cinema as far back as the late 1800’s, whereby people would pay to watch former World Title bouts. It was a little later however, and as early as the 1930’s, when boxing movies became a real success – The Champ won an award for the then ‘Best Story’ category.
There are a few things that always feature in boxing films; a training montage, an heroic underdog, a slightly jealous brother and an angry trainer, yet these are often bylines and subplots that lead to the last crucial World Title fight. They are often predictable, and we normally know how they’re going to end. The Rocky films for instance, seems the perfect starting point to discuss the cliches attached to the sub-genre. Each Rocky film had an outspoken opponent, he had a love interest for whom he insisted each fight won would be won for her, and he was always – always – the underdog. Though no matter how predictable they grew, the audience still followed – film after film.
There are a few ways in which these films shoot and edit their fights. The fights in the aforementioned Rocky films were shot somewhat like a live boxing match, the camera work was kept simple and this gave the fights a sense of realism. On the other hand, Raging Bull, which was shot in black and white, filmed the fight scenes very much inside the ropes and using point of view shots to interact with the viewer. No matter how they are shot though, the fights are always action-packed, grabbing the audience by the throat and giving them a real bout of uppercut induced excitement.
One of the great fight scenes that springs to mind is the fight in Rocky Balboa, whilst the film may act as a cheap attempt at a money spinner for Stallone, they really capture the final scene as authentically as possible. They filmed the fight using all the same angles and exposure that a fight on pay-per-view would be filmed with a reasonably realistic outcome to boot. Another memorable fight scene is that where the character Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) breaks her neck in Million Dollar Baby which really had the audience grimacing at the screen.
Girls, Brothers and Hollywood Sub-plots
Films about boxing are often intriguing, yet it’s not just the fighting that we remember them for. In order for the films to appeal to the greater audience and to the Hollywood production companies that fund them, there has to be more to them than the sport itself. Of course what would a movie be without a hint of romance or an in family battle? Who would the fighter dedicate his (or her) win to?
As far back as Gentleman Jim and The Champ, boxing films have not been about the fighters own will to fight, there has always been an alternative motive driving him on. The Champ (also remade under the same name) for example, was about the lead winning back the love of his son after he lost his horse in a bet, something he does successfully only to pay for it with his life. It’s this sort of a story which really allows the audience to interact with what’s happening on the screen and to empathise with the characters such as Million Dollar Baby and Cinderella Man. Both are films about characters rising from poverty and using boxing to seek a source of income.
Whilst Hollywood, on occasions, has attempted to glam up the sport of boxing, we still remember biopics working to great effect; Films where a boxers real life story lends itself to be made into a film, without pulling any punches. The 2001 film Ali, does exactly that. The focal point is a boxer so talented and outspoken that there needn’t be any exaggerations in order to glam up the concept of the film for the big screen. Take, also Somebody Up There Likes Me, starring Paul Newman about the life of Rocky Graziano, a real-life zero-to-hero legend who found boxing as his calling only after spending time in jail and going AWOL from the US Army.
Angry Trainers and Training Montages
Of course, aside from the narratives, the one thing that springs to mind when it comes to boxing films, is the training montage. The part in the story where the character has to get fit and ready in order to beat his opponent, the montage showing hundreds of shots of our big screen boxer training. It’s in these parts of the films where we recollect some of the most iconic and inspiring film shots imaginable. We all remember Rocky running through the streets of Philadelphia during his training, with possibly the most memorable soundtrack imaginable bursting our ear drums. You know the one. It starts with him drinking raw eggs, cutting to shots of him in the gym throughout and finally ending with him sprinting up the steps to the museum.
Another thing that resonates with the genre, is the presence of an angry trainer. The stereotypical coach, someone who uses tough principles and a raised voice in order to inspire the fighter on. In Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, we see Clint play this role. Sexist in his attitude to women boxing, we start out hating him for his old fashioned stance. After he is won over by Maggie Fitzgerald’s talents, we are won over by his ability to change and accept her as a boxer in her own right and the courage it takes to end it all, in that final scene.
Some Great Performances
There’s something about boxing films that lend themselves to a fine performance from the leading man – it’s what Stallone – an actor with limited ability has built his career on. With storylines that allow actors to hyperbolise their emotions and a script that’s more or less built around them, we see award worthy performances time after time.
One that should surely spring to mind is Russell Crowe portrayal as The Cinderella Man Jim Braddock in this true story, a story of an underdog who gave a nation hope and inspiration, is as much proof as we needed that Crowe is one of the greatest actors of our generation.
Another, award-winning performance that we can recall is Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront. Whilst the film may not be remembered simply as a “boxing film”, Brando’s performance as Terry Malloy will probably always be recalled as one of the best performances in film of all time and one that made On The Waterfront what it was.
Whatever it may be about boxing that lends itself to so many movies, Hollywood will keep on making them. And whether it be because of the final fights or the series of events that lead us to those fights, we as an audience will keep watching them. The UK release of The Fighter this week to much critical acclaim, just about proves that there is no foreseeable end to the action-packed dramas that are often powerful enough to make a grown man cry.