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Knockout: The Boxer and Boxing in American Cinema

Leger Grindon
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Knockout: The Boxer and Boxing in American Cinemais the first book-length study of the Hollywood boxing film, a popular movie entertainment since the 1930s, that includes such classics asMillion Dollar Baby,Rocky, andRaging Bull. The boxer stands alongside the cowboy, the gangster, and the detective as a character that shaped America's ideas of manhood. Leger Grindon relates the Hollywood boxing film to the literature of Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Clifford Odets; the influence of ring champions, particularly Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali; and controversies surrounding masculinity, race, and sports.

    Knockoutbreaks new ground in film genre study by focusing on the fundamental dramatic conflicts uniting both documentary and fictional films with compelling social concerns. The boxing film portrays more than the rise and fall of a champion; it exposes the body in order to reveal the spirit. Not simply a brute, the screen boxer dramatizes conflicts and aspirations central to an American audience's experience. This book features chapters on the conventions of the boxing film, the history of the genre and its relationship to famous ring champions, and self-contained treatments of thirty-two individual films including a chapter devoted to Raging Bull.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-989-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 WHY THE BOXING FILM? The Meaningful Structure of the Boxing Film Genre
    (pp. 3-31)

    The boxer stands alongside the cowboy, the gangster, and the detective as a figure that has shaped America’s idea of manhood. Beyond the sport itself, the boxer’s significance was developed through the fiction of Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, the painting of Thomas Eakins and George Bellows, and the drama of Clifford Odets. But no art has shaped our perception of the boxer as much as motion pictures. The pugilist arose as a popular figure in Hollywood cinema with the advent of sound and appeared in over one hundred feature films released between 1930 and 1960 (see appendix II for...

    (pp. 32-72)

    Composing a history of the genre’s development is an indispensable task in film genre study. The American boxing film is a series of productions whose form and meaning change in response to conditions in the film industry, boxing culture, and society at large. Since the coming of sound, well over 150 feature length boxing films have been released. Three periods of intense activity mark the development of the genre: 1930–42, 1946–56, and 1975–80, with a minor revival in the 1990s that continues today. The boxing film genre may be further divided into six cycles and three clusters...

  6. 3 ʺDOWN FOR THE COUNTʺ Critique of the Success Ethic in the Boxing Film
    (pp. 73-98)

    The foundation of film genres rests upon social problems shaped into dramatic conflicts. Among the most long-standing conflicts in American culture is that between competitive individualism and self-sacrifice for the common good. Competitive individualism is closely linked to “the American Dream” that one can gain wealth, power, and social position through fair compensation for hard work and talent. The myth of Horatio Alger hinges on this “Dream,” which famously employs market forces to provide an anonymous means for distributing rewards and enforcing punishment, like Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Self-sacrifice is usually associated with our Judeo-Christian heritage and family values. In...

  7. 4 ʺON THE ROPESʺ The Conflict between Assimilation and the Indigenous Community
    (pp. 99-127)

    Only the most desperate are able to overlook the brutality and hardship of boxing and pursue a career in the ring. The lower class origins of the screen pugilist was already an established convention in the early sound period, but by the late 1930s the boxer had become clearly marked as an ethnic outsider—and later a racial outsider—as well. Prizefighting became an avenue to acceptance by the dominant culture and a means of resisting oppression. However, the boxer frequently experiences a conflict between the opportunity success offers for integration into mainstream society, and loyalty to the marginalized ethnic...

  8. 5 ROMANCE AND THE RING Gender Conflict in the Boxing Film
    (pp. 128-155)

    Over 90 percent of Hollywood films include a romance. Genres usually distinguish themselves by their treatment of courtship and couples. In the Western, the saloon girl and the schoolmarm try to bring the cowboy in from the range. The singing couples of the musical often embody the conflict between work and entertainment. Violence twists romance in the gangster film, and a perverse sexuality thwarts the couple. In the boxing film, the masculine milieu of the prizefighter polarizes men and women. Though the vamp may parade through the boxing world to entice the pugilist, the sweetheart must draw him from the...

  9. 6 ʺHITTING BELOW THE BELTʺ Violence, Suffering, and Male Emotion
    (pp. 156-188)

    Hollywood cinema has often been noted for its optimism, characterized by the proverbial happy ending. Though the boxing film has no shortage of happy endings, the marginal position of these movies within the entertainment industry arises from their disturbing subjects. Even Clint Eastwood had trouble finding a studio to backMillion Dollar Baby, owing to fear of “serious pictures” (Bart 2005, 4). Anger and suffering are among the most troubling subjects portrayed in the boxing film. For the screen boxer, indignation at injustice is regularly blocked and his rage displaced onto his ring opponent. This disparity between the source of...

  10. 7 BODY AND SOUL The Conflict between the Flesh and the Spirit
    (pp. 189-230)

    The boxer is his body. Physical prowess defines his worth. Stripped of clothing, without tools, this warrior must conquer or be vanquished using nothing more than his flesh and bones. The physical sensibility that is the prizefighter extends outside the ring to the sensual rewards that come with victory and the primal urges that fuel his drive for success. The boxer’s rise highlights our animal nature, grounded in the body, and prepares the drama for the champion’s physical decline and the inevitability of death. As Charlie Davis acknowledges in the closing line ofBody and Soul(1947), “Everybody dies.” The...

    (pp. 231-266)

    Genre films are often understood to be inimical to the originality, complexity, and intensity that characterize high art. Indeed, European art cinema has often been distinguished from Hollywood productions because it rejects genre conventions in favor of films with a greater emphasis on social realism, the psychological development of characters, self-conscious style, and a cultivated ambiguity.

    But many of the most celebrated cinematic achievements of Hollywood filmmaking are vividly realized genre films. Many classics of the studio era, such asTrouble in Paradise(1932),The Big Sleep(1946), andVertigo(1958) were regarded as little more than generic entertainments at...

  12. EPILOGUE: Into the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 267-282)

    The tradition of genre criticism goes back to Aristotle’sPoetics. Though respected for its honorable lineage, genre analysis deemphasizes accepted Romantic aesthetic values, such as originality, imagination, and personal expression. Rather, genre criticism seeks out the patterns which reveal shared aesthetic conventions, embedded social practices which foster fluent communication between the artist and his or her audience. Film genre criticism seeks to articulate the common models of narrative, characterization, and setting, as well as the viewer’s typical emotional response, all of which unify a body of films over time. Such an analysis strives to describe patterns (that filmmakers and the...

  13. APPENDIX I: Cycles/Clusters of the Boxing Film Genre
    (pp. 283-290)
  14. APPENDIX II: Boxing Films Cited
    (pp. 291-294)
    (pp. 295-302)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 303-320)