Archive for the Sport Category

Boxing Clever

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2022 by dcairns

Before the big fight, justly celebrated, is the locker room scene, which also deserves celebration.

Charlie has made a deal with a wiry little fighter (Irishman Eddie McAuliffe, in what seems to be his only movie role) — he’ll throw the fight and they’ll split the prize money. This scheme, and the fact that Eddie is forced to flee by the cops leaving Charlie right in it, recalls the deal Harold strikes with his human fly pal in SAFETY LAST!

Once Charlie realises he’s on his own, the scene becomes a brilliant series of interactions. Trying to ingratiate himself with his new opponent (Keystone veteran Hank Mann), he falls into flirting, causing man’s man Mann to experience homosexual panic. There’s a lovely fast pan from one to the other, something Chaplin will do more of in MODERN TIMES. When he wanted to be, he could be a very good storyteller with the camera. It’s incorrect to suggest that all he ever did was plonk it in front of himself for a head-to-toe wide shot. That may be 90% of what he did, but the other 10 counts.

Seeing how a Black fighter clings to his rabbit’s foot, Charlie begs the use of it, but is disillusioned when the fighter comes back from his bout in a coma. Suddenly he has to disassociate himself from the defective rodent appendage as best he can.

(The IMDb has only two credits for “superstitious fighter” Victor Alexander, in 1931 and ’35, but he must have done more movies in between, surely.)

The fight is astonishing. Again, the close sync allowed by sound films allows Chaplin to play with a musical sound effect, the bell — and to use the score to accompany what amounts to a slapstick dance, in which Eddie Baker, another knockabout veteran, as the referee, plays a vital part.

Chaplin had dabbled with boxing matches before, playing a referee who gets KO’d in THE KNOCKOUT and prizefighting himself in THE CHAMPION. But his greater experience pays off here, along with a stronger comic idea: what makes this fight funny is Charlie’s terror at being in the ring, his preference for hiding behind the referee or getting into a clinch rather than playing by the Queensberry rules. The situation is familiar from countless knockabout comedies, but the protagonist’s ATTITUDE is unique.

We see it even before the first punch is thrown: Charlie politely holds the ropes so the seconds can enter the ring; offered the chance to shake hands with Mann, Charlie does so too eagerly, and then tries to shake with everyone else. If he can make friends all round, maybe no one will hit him.

You could make a direct comparison of Chaplin’s boxing match here with Keaton’s in BATTLING BUTLER and Chaplin, I submit, would win. But that would be deceptive, even if it seems fair to compare like with like.

Chaplin uses repetition a lot more than Keaton ever did, and here it adds immensely to the sense of a formal dance. The ref gets in between the opponents. They jump sideways in unison. When the ref is finally extricated, Charlie lands a punch. Then it happens again. The repetition, given a favourable audience, becomes funny in and of itself, but the substitution of fresh routines keeps things unpredictable.

Brain damage works oddly in this film: just as the drunk keeps losing and recovering his memory, Charlie can be punched into a state of wooziness, then an additional punch suddenly wakes him up, turns him into a ball of pugilistic dervish energy. Again, Chaplin has an impressive faith that his comic logic will be comprehensible to his audience: his faith is repaid.

The particular highlight, for Fiona and I, is the succession of falls — both Charlie and Mann are dazed, and keep faceplanting on the canvas, while the ref tries to count each of them out, but can never quite make it because they keep semi-recovering, then falling over again. Fiona wanted that bit to go on even longer, but it’s already pretty extensive.

Also in here is the beautiful hallucination (leading to yet another gay joke — this part of the film is full of them) with the blind girl appearing to Charlie during a time out when he’s been knocked semi-unconscious. It’s like a pieta.

Her blindness is strangely multiplied: she can’t see anyone, but nobody but Charlie can see her.

The sequence unavoidably has to end on a downer — Charlie has to lose. When we’ve been laughing so much at his struggles, this is a bit of a slap in the face, but at least it isn’t a punch. And it propels us into the film’s climactic scenes, which are all about getting the elusive money, and of course reintroducing the drunken millionaire, back from Europe, the ultimate Indian giver.


5) Firenze – Zeffirelli

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , , , on March 9, 2022 by dcairns

So, we’ve got from A (Antonioni) to Z (Zeffirelli) in 12 REGISTI PER 12 CITTA’ but we still have seven little films to look at. Franco Z isn’t my favourite Italian director by a long chalk, but his episode is admirable — which is surprising to me because I hate football and his episode is all about the football.

Previous entries have either completely ignored (Antonioni, Bertolucci) the upcoming sporting event (the 1990 FIFA World Cup, apparently) or shoehorned a quick name-check in at the end (Lizzani). Obviously I prefer the first approach (take football money and make something elegant that has nothing to do with football) and obviously the second approach is inelegant, but Zeffirelli’s film is fairly elegant and has an approach that uses the sport to showcase the beauty of his chosen (or assigned) city and gives you some history without ramming facts down your throat like a tour guide, as Lizzani had done.

Basically, Zeffirelli shows people playing football in different locations and different historical periods. His film is attractively photographed by Daniele Nannuzzi (YOUNG TOSCANINI) and is scored by Ennio Morricone. It manages to look much more expensive than the earlier instalments — one wonders if FZ managed to squeeze more loot from his backers or if he was just really good at getting the money onscreen. He’d certainly had practice at that.

All he needed to make this a perfect little gem was a series of match-cuts so that the football flies from one game to another, travelling through time and linking all the scenes. This he somehow fails to do, perhaps because the games are real and though he’s got a lot of nice coverage he hasn’t got the precise material for beautiful matches. There are a few rough stabs at creating matches, creating a false cinematic geography and history, but it’s not quite as achieved as it ought to be. But it certainly looks nice and sounds nice and you get the impression that the filmmaker actually likes the beautiful game, or anyway the boys who play it. Not that his enjoyment is impure — I guess for anyone who appreciates sport, delighting in healthy bodies doing impressive athletic things is an essential element, as with ballet. Watching football through a gay filmmaker’s eyes gives me a slightly increased appreciation of it as a festivity (we’re not keeping score here) rather than as a competition. Which is more than I expected anyone to be able to do.

4) Cagliari – Lizzani

Posted in FILM, Sport with tags , , on February 22, 2022 by dcairns

The journey through 12 REGISTI PER 12 CITTA’ continues with the least impressive entry to date — to me, anyway. A shame, because I’ve liked some of Carlo Lizzani’s work, including his Cannes ’68 entry, BANDITI A MILANO. And the ’88 compendium/travelogue continues to be a role call of the dead: Lizzani suicided off a balcony at age 91, which is tragic but also vaguely impressive, even if it shouldn’t be.

Lizzani was a critic as well as a filmmaker and his last works are mostly documentaries about cinema — Rossellini, Visconti, Zavattini are subjects. So it makes sense that his segment is more like a straight documentary. But quite a boring one. The voice-over gives us a lot of dry facts, and the shots are rather conventional helicopter angles, static views of buildings, and some moderately interesting handheld roving around. We learn quite a lot about the history of Cagliari, but if you’re like me you won’t retain any of it.

The music is a disaster, I think. It’s credited to “the Grop’s Power” (?) and Luigi Lai (any relation to Francis Lai?) but the way it’s cut and the way it sounds makes it seem like library music, laid in by the yard.

Suddenly, at 4.50, things get interesting. Helicopter shots take us to the bronze age fortified villages of the nuraghi, which the camera starts exploring, handheld, in suspenseful, winding Steadicam movements through stone labyrinths, and then Lizzani throws in quick cuts to artifacts recovered from the site and now exhibited in a museum. The short sharp detail shots penetrate the film like knife blows, the brick-red background colour adding to their impact, and in addition the objects are all rotating to give them dimensionality. It’s a really lovely sequence: and the objects themselves are so stylised they same quite alien. It’s an encounter with the past that carries just the right quality of startlement: like diving into the water and meeting a sea monster, face to face. Even the music works here: even the fact that it feels chopped up.

I really dislike the voice-over man, so things take a dip when he comes back. I deduct several more points when this becomes the first entry in the series to mention the football, which is the films’ ostensible reason for existing but which Antonioni and co. quite rightly declined to have anything to do with. But Lizzani has shown, with that one great bit, that he’s still a true filmmaker, and my enthusiasm for the piece as a whole has risen. As the sun sinks slowly in the west and we say a fond farewell to Cagliari, I tip my hat to another dead director.