In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at John Huston’s grimly brilliant boxing picture Fat City.
The fact of the matter is there have been more decent Boxing pictures than there have been decent boxing matches and John Huston’s Fat City is one of the best. Stacey Keach is the man who wakes up in his underwear in a flea pit boarding house, his bottle down to the dregs and unable to find a light. As Kris Kristoferson – who was legally required to write a song for every US film from 1971 to 1974 – croons about headaches, Billy Tully (Keach) stumbles out onto the street and heads for the gym where he is hoping to perhaps pick up the pieces. Here he meets young Ernie (Jeff Bridges) and the two spar. Tully’s comeback seems already over when he pulls a muscle but on his advice, Ernie goes to the local gym where he is taken on by Tully’s old coach Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto, who played coach in Cheers).
This is no Rocky, or Million Dollar Baby, or Raging Bull, or Southpaw. Those films all follow a similar trajectory, a rise and fall. They all perceive their particular fighter as in some way special – a contender. In Fat City, both Ernie and Tully are nothing special, except for the novelty that they’re white fighting among the black and Mexicans who make up the circuit. Ernie is particularly inept as a boxer and gets himself knocked out in his first bout, his nose broken badly in the next. When he does win a fight by a decision, we don’t even see it. Tully’s belated comeback fight is a brutal affair against another old fighter who is a similarly aging slugger and who pisses blood before the fight.
This is John Steinbeck country, or something Charles Bukowski might have written if he’d stopped for a second writing books about himself. Poor Californians – both Ernie and Tully end up fruit picking at one point – along with the poverty and possible brain damage, Tully has the additional abuse of alcoholism to contend with and a relationship with fellow boozer Oma (a magnificent Susan Tyrell), who for a moment gives him companionship but ultimately torments him. Ernie also has a girl Faye (Candy Clarke) and things seem more hopeful when he gets her pregnant and marries her.
Adapted from his own novel by Leonard Gardner, Fat City is a film that refuses the glamour of the usual boxing pic. There’s no escape from poverty – Cinderella Man – there’s no redemption or defeating of demons, no glory and no glamour. In the end there’s a brutal honesty and a small perfect epic about the losers who never get to Fat City.
LONDON – With a new film in cinemas – the Formula 1 racing thriller Rush – I jumped at the chance to sit down with the Angels and Demons director Ron Howard to discuss this project and his career.
Little did I know that he was on a strict color coordinated diet and worse yet today was a blue day.
So Richie, what first attracted you to Formula 1 as a subject for a film?
I suppose it was simply reading Peter Morgan’s wonderful script. You see we’d worked already on Frost/Nixon and… wait a second.
Did you just call me Richie?
Okay. I think … where was I? Oh yeah, the script was really good so I latched onto that.
When you were directing the actors did you have any difficulties?
No, not at all both Daniel Bruhl and Chris Hemsworth are very talented actors. And extremely professional, though I am sorry to hear that Chris and Miley Cyrus have split up.
I heard that Daniel at one point during the driver’s meeting scene refused to sit on a stool and you had to tell him ‘to sit on it’.
I don’t remember that incident specifically. As I say, there are times a director has to put his foot … oh wait I see what you’re doing.
I heard the schedule was very tight. What was the typical week?
Erm… Well, it was tight as a matter of fact. It was a lot of shooting and a lot of hard work. We’d start Monday…
Tuesday Happy Days!
Oh this is bullshit. I came here to do an interview. And you’re just trying to make a bunch of lame Richie Cunningham references.
Best work you did Richie.
I made Cinderella Man, Goddam it! And Apollo 13 and Far and Away. The Da Vinci Code… You know now that you think about it Happy Days was a lot of fun. Okay fair enough. Ask away.
Well, actually that’s all we have time for and these Gorgonzola cornflakes are beginning to repeat.
No come back, seriously. I can tell you what Henry Winkler’s really like. And I got a hilarious story about the time Potsie potsied Joanie. Hey…
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HOLLYWOOD – Famed thriller director M. Night Shyamalan has revealed his latest twist but it isn’t for a movie, it’s for his entire career.
M. Night Shyamalan has revealed that there was a reason for the critical failure of his last few films as he spoke about his new film After Earth, starring the family Smith and due out in 2013.
‘I sat down when I was starting out my career and plotted it like I would a film,’ said The Airbender as he prefers to be called. ‘I start with some good movies: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and even Signs. Then here comes The Village which is like a swerve ball. People suddenly go woah! what’s this?’
M. Night is laughing so hard he can’t speak. ‘Oh, dear,’ he gasps. ‘Then I do The Happening which I completely Wahlberg, and people are like, is this the same guy? Then the Giametti one, I can’t even remember what it was called. Then Airbender which puked like Justin Bieber on the original series. And that’s it, right? Reputation well and truly in tatters? And then comes After Earth and bang. He’s got game. The twist ending. Good director becomes shitty and then boom back again. And you’re on your back.’
Shyamalan claims he modelled his career on the story of Cinderella Man. However, Roger Ebert has pointed out that Ron Howard’s boxing film came out in 2005 and Shyamalan ‘was already making us collectively eat his shit sandwiches in 1998 with the mercifully forgotten Rosie O’Donnell comedy Wide Awake.’