It’s no quiet notion to know that cinema loves sports in every single capacity to every single form from the underdog story, the individual, the team, the coaches, what goes on behind the scenes, the scandals, the heartbreaks and more. Sport lends itself so well to the moving image format and all the real life drama surrounding them fits in just as neatly. But one sport in particular has had film goers and film makers alike going back time and time again. With two massive films last year centring on the sport alone; Southpaw and Creed. Both boasting stunning performances, transformations and originality in a constantly trod ground. Boxing has drawn nearly every big name inside the ropes from Scorsese, Eastwood, Crowe, Smith, Washington, Mann and of course the Stallion; Sylvester Stallone. But why, well as much as I’d like to answer that and will try to, I’ll probably just end up rambling for a while picking out a few highlight’s for the sub-genre and leaving it at that, so if that does happen… well I guess you’ve been warned.
So here goes nothing; why of all the sports is boxing the one filmmakers and audiences alike connect with potentially the most. While other sports have enjoyed plenty of the limelight in particular American Football, which is a heavy contender to the Boxing crown, its affiliation to film however is an easy connection to make, its an american sport meeting another american institution (at heart) and while it has drawn just as big names as the boxing film it hasn’t quite done so in the same quantities and pairings. Speaking outside of a film context as a starting point, boxing is a sport dating back to Ancient Greece and sited as the being part of the original olympic games, so there is a lot of history to play with. But what I believe to be one of the biggest draws heavily plays into the history aspect of it all, and that is the people, the boxers, the coaches, all their stories are a breeding ground for great storytelling. With the sport covering uncountable years it has therefore been in some shape or form a part of society and has a left a fingerprint on nearly every major social conflict, in particular in the 20th century, trumping the wars and racism of the time. And then there’s the figures like Ali, Lenox Lewis, Tyson, Sugar Ray Robinson and Leonard, Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Calzaghe, Hatton and the names just keep going, before we even get into the promoters, the coaches and everyone else surrounding the sport. There’s so much inspiration in the sport, so much history and social impact that it is a breeding ground for great storytelling.
But why does Boxing have such a strong affiliation with film, as all sport has history, for me its simply the story structure is so appealing, it’s one man/woman in the ring, it’s one person putting everything on the line, they may be fighting a single opponent but that opponent represents so much more, they represent an entire journey, the amount of visual storytelling that can be taken from that single idea is staggering. But that’s when the cliches come into play, the fighter of a broken home, the begrudging coach, the fight for redemption, the training montage, learning to fight from the heart, the arrogant champ. And then there is only ever two outcomes to such a story; the straight win and the moral one and yet story after story is told within such a linear format, but why does it still continue to impress; character. Boxing films are made and bred on their characters, its their story and everyones surrounding them and how it all can be channeled into one dream, one hope, to fight your fight. For instance take a classic Rocky and a more modern iteration The Fighter, Rocky a rags to riches story but loses the fight. The Fighter a rags to riches story and he takes the title. But that isn’t why these films are so endearing and inspirational, Rocky may lose but he also win’s it all, he makes something of his life, he finds the love of his life, he finds something to live for again. The Fighter; Micky achieves his dream while also dragging his brother into sobriety and taking away all of the family’s heartache. Both films seem similar but tackle such varying issues with The Fighter looking into lost fame, drug abuse, neglect and disillusionment whereas Rocky looks at a few more simpler ideas but still oxymoronically just as complex with Rocky learning the virtues of life and love, having friends and a reason to live. This for me is the life blood of the boxing film how complex and emotional issues can be concluded by one unimaginable raw battle of heart, body and soul. It’s just so cinematic without trying to be, they portray stories of such raw human emotion encapsulated so perfectly by such a brutal and emotional sport, boxing was made for the silver screen, the more I think about it, the easier it is to see, I could just list off film after film each so different from the other yet nearly exactly the same. Take last years two big releases for example; Creed and Southpaw, they are both such similar films yet deal with issues miles apart, with Southpaw focusing on a boxer at the top of his game who loses it all, his wife, his daughter and his home and yet he continues to fight to reunite his family and to change his life for the better, then there’s Creed, focusing on Adonis Johnson a kid who goes from rags to riches but gives it all up to find that connection to his lost father and to understand who he is.
And so the rambling began and I shall begrudgingly bring it to a stop as that word count ever creeps closer and closer to the 1,000 mark. I may not of enlightened you to my thinking this time but it’s all a lot clearer in my head right now. So thanks, I guess, although I did do all the work! But I do hope I made my point, but if not I guess I could summarise it but then that would be a bit insulting had you decided for whatever mad reason to struggle through my ramblings only for me to concisely and nicely summarise it all at the bottom of the page, so to summarise; the sport boils down every human emotion and puts it on the shoulders of one fighter and his shot at it all, to win it all, and that just screams cinema.
Throwing body shots like he’s Rocky Balboa. Going upstairs like he’s Apollo Creed.