July 25, 2008

Rocky, Rocky!

Julie Davis liked the film Rocky, but now posts the views of a naysayer:
The boxing choreography is so fake, World Wrestling Federation workers think it could use some work. The gloves clearly do not hit bodies, the exaggerated reactions and head flailings...
This is not an unfamiliar complaint about movies. We moderns crave authenticity and everyone seems to have their own set point at which poor execution forces them to miss the beauty and the larger message. A professional boxer might be more put off by inauthentic boxing scenes than someone with no familiarity of the sport, just as many a historical-critical method scholar is more put off by pious interpretations of Holy Writ than the fervent grandmother in church.

Don't some of Shakespeare's plays have rather amazing "coincidences" and leaps of logic that could prevent the suspension of disbelief, but do we think less of them? Could you could ruin a Shakespeare production of Macbeth by the ghost appearing in a ridiculously inauthentic costume, such as a sheet, such that it lends an almost comic aspect? I suppose.

I suspect many critics like dark, unredemptive films because happy endings seem fake since "real life" is such a mixed bag, nothingwithstanding that in reality death has been defeated and our lives are eternal.

I've certainly been bitten by the "reality bug" to some extent (I've been surprised to learn just how sensitive I am to the culture). But if it's true we're reading far fewer novels, could this be related? For me Rocky was about the human drama, it was about personalities and only very tangentially about sport.

Rocky isn't all sweetness and light. The seedy side of life is not repressed, but neither is it glorified. The wasted lives, the alcoholism, the meaninglessness and poverty is present. To get hung up on the authenticity of the boxing seems to miss the point. It's like hearing the words of the Magnificat and rather than pondering the astonishment of the Incarnation we shrug and say, "those aren't Mary's words, they were lifted by Luke from the Old Testament."


Anonymous said...

Authenticity is important in film. Especially in modern film, because the average viewer has better knowledge. For example, the authenticity of the suffering of Jesus is one of the great and unique things that brings true pathos and passion to the viewer of Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ. As a matter of fact, bringing that authenticity to a dulled modern movie audience/Christian believers was the motivating factor for Mel Gibson in making the film (and making it the choice to focus on the "passion" of Christ: To make clear to the modern viewer (Christian or no) of the depth of Christ's sacrifice. You do not have to be a "grandmother in the pew" to be moved to tears by the violence and suffering humanity inflicted... the sacrifice Christ endured for us on Good Friday. Merely look and meditate on Michangelo's "authentic" Pieta or most Catholic Church's Stations of the Cross to see the artistic, teaching and emotional difference.

I am the original commentor/critic of Rocky at Happy Catholic. My point about the inauthenticity was not to be a fetishist on boxing technique. I am not putting forward the "film nerd" argument. I am saying that the boxing choreography is OBVIOUSLY horrible, and it is slothful for viewers of the film to excuse it. One does not have to be a professional boxer or film-geek dilletante to object to the hack work-- writing, cinematography, choreography-- in Rocky (a film that is working on being beloved by a third generation since its release in 1975). I am saying that boxing is a brutal blood sport. Boxers frequently die or are maimed in the ring. There is the constant threat of serious bodily harm, brain damage and death. If you do not feel that threat in watching the fight scenes, then it is almost immoral to set the story in a boxing arena. It massively diminishes the pathos, courage and sacrifice of Rocky Balboa in pursuing his redemption in the ring if you do not see and "feel" the pain of each punch, or the aerobic exhaustion of each three minute boxing round. Plus, the horrible boxing choreography insults the memory of all the real people killed or injured in the ring. Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man, and Raging Bull are more beautiful movies (cinematographically and message)and make the deeper, truer points of sacrifice, redemption, redemptive suffering, perserverence, justice, poverty because they do not flinch from show the absolute pain and sacrifice of with out the mass audiences that they deserved.

Finally, my point is that so many people who decry banal (or worse)depictions in other films or artistic genres or liturgy, accept it in this fraud movie Rocky. Dark films are not automatically unredemptive.

Anonymous said...

Rocky diminishes the human drama because because the real/authentic threat to body and brain inherent in boxing are made a joke (hence the WWF reference).

Put it another way, now that we have Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, would we accept (let alone get weepy and celebrate) a movie depticting the life of Jesus Christ that did not make clear the absolute physical and psychological torment our Savior endured... the enormity of his sacrifice... the hugeness of our redemption through Christ the Lord?
Isn't this "authenticity" why us Catholics prefer the crucifix(think a superior symbol of our faith), as opposed to the "empty cross." The crucifix shows us/ reminds us of the exact and deep nature of his sacrific; the empty cross is a symbol of "cheap grace."

TS said...

Well, I've heard Stallone had a couple broken ribs and bruises all over his body after the making of the film, so he was going for cinema veritas even if you think he didn't achieve it. (No sloth on Stallone's part.) I personally thought he paid fitting tribute to those who died in the ring by the emotions portrayed on screen - Rocky's fear, etc..).

Film has evolved towards greater authenticity and so people have gotten acclimated to greater levels of authenticity so it's hard to go back, although the great film classics manage to do so without any problem. In "Gone With the Wind", many scenes involving special effects look clunky and outdated, but it's still one of the most popular films of all-time.

At the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare's day, obvious-looking men played women's roles and vice-versa. No one then was dismayed by the lack of authenticity.

I tend to think the move towards greater authenticity (snuff films next?) shows the poverty of our story-telling but I could be wrong and you make a case fot the opposite. Still, I tend to think since we tell stories so ineptly, we try to make up for it with extremely realistic

I think the worst thing about "The Passion of the Christ" was its over-reliance on accuracy, such as the endless scourging scene. Film as art should not show time depicted in "real time" but compressed in a symbolically meaningful way.