There was an article in London’s Evening Standard in which a journalist took England’s most famous female boxer, Cathy Brown, to see Clint Eastwood’s film Million Dollar Baby. Thirty-four year-old Brown had recently knocked out Hungarian Viktoria Varga after just two rounds– exactly the type of fight Hilary Swank’s character, Maggie, excels at in the film. I’ve seen the film again myself recently and it’s just fabulous (and rather weirdly satisfying) to watch Swank swing out a meaty arm and knock someone senseless.
What is it with boxing and films? Why does boxing transfer so well to cinema when, for example, movies about hockey or football frequently suck? Say what you like about Sylvester Stallone, but Rocky is an extremely well-constructed, enjoyable film– plus, I can’t help but remember my pre-adolescent stirrings at the sight of his armpits. (If you think you’re disturbed by that, imagine how I feel.) Scorsese got more from one shot of blood dripping from rope in Raging Bull than he was able to muster in 3 hours of the crap Hughes bio-pic, The Aviator. Would On The Waterfront have been quite so moving if Brando had been, say, a failed golfer? There’s something evocative about the strength, sadness, and end-of-the-line desperation of people who get beat up for a living.
I suppose some of the appeal of boxing films is obvious: Women like watching well-built men sweat with very little clothing on. Men like sports. The drama of boxing has a simple conflict– two people face to face with only fists and their minds as both weapons and defense. Boxing has a structure that is inherently cinematic: The rounds of only a few minutes a piece, interspersed with terse instructions, loads of blood as eyelids get sliced open and noses re-arranged while pretty girls in hot-pants stroll around holding up placards. Plus boxing films have the climactic potential of the old KO. Add two condoms and a pizza and you’ve got quite a pleasant Saturday night. Continue reading