Anthology Film Archives


August 18 – August 27

Boxing announces itself as two combatants, enclosed in a square ring, using nothing but their fists to pummel each other into oblivion. Where, you might ask, is the appeal in that? We might mention first that Virgil and Homer featured it in their epic poems; G.B. Shaw had a lifelong obsession with it, writing a book on the subject in between his plays, and going so far as lacing up a pair of gloves himself; and James Baldwin, a complete stranger to the sport, was moved nonetheless to pen a rueful essay on sympathetic heavyweight Floyd Patterson. Boxing, to be sure, has long found a way of bewitching its observers, compelling them to memorialize, by way of philosophic introspection and metaphor alike, their experience of seeing violence waged in the ring. But violence is only half the picture. What permits boxing to emerge out of its purview as a bloodsport and become something like a broadly-recognized motif, is its seemingly innate possession of those grand, humanistic themes that have populated the great novels: the tales of redemption, bravery, sacrifice, ungodly willpower, flirtation with death, and so on – such elements more than earn boxing its cultural keep. Boxing, in other words, is the stuff of movies.

Since the last days of the bareknuckle era and the first flickers from a projector, boxing and cinema have gone hand-in-hand. In his book “Fight Pictures,” film scholar Dan Streible explores how the inherent thrills and simplicity of boxing caught the attention of Edison and other early film practitioners as an easy way to monetize on the new invention. Indeed, the subject of the world’s first feature film was none other than the heavyweight fight between James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons.

To celebrate the longstanding and ongoing ties between boxing and cinema, Anthology presents the first of a two-part series devoted to the very best examples of boxing on screen. This first chapter features classic Hollywood noirs and dramas like THE SET-UP and GENTLEMAN JIM; Leo McCarey’s more lighthearted take on the subject, THE MILKY WAY; New Hollywood gems such as FAT CITY and RAGING BULL, and superlative documentaries including THE FIGHT, ON THE ROPES, and BOXING GYM. And best of all, we welcome Dan Streible for a special presentation showcasing some of the remarkable and long-forgotten materials he discovered in his research for his seminal book on the subject.

Co-programmed by Sean Nam, who also wrote the introduction and (unless otherwise noted) all film descriptions. Special thanks to Dan Streible; Carlos Acevedo (The Cruelest Sport); Nanette Burstein; Chris Chouinard (Park Circus); Louise Greaves; Dave Jennings (Sony); Brett Morgen; Kristie Nakamura (WB); Anton Perich; Bill Powers; Nicolas Rapold; Richard Šteinhübel (Slovak Film Institute); and Todd Weiner & Steven Hill (UCLA).

Steve Farhood, Boxing Hall of Fame analyst and journalist, will be here in person to introduce the screenings of THE SET-UP and FAT CITY on Friday, August 18; and film critic Nicholas Elliott will introduce the screening of GENTLEMAN JIM on Friday, August 25!

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