February 13, 2005

Fat City

Stacy Keach wakes up in a fleabag motel, in his worn white underwear and the shirt he had on yesterday (we assume), and does the wake-up-reflex reach to the little table beside the bed. (Even the cheapest, sleaziest motels still have a little table beside the bed -- and not just in the movies.) He gets the cigarette and sticks it in his mouth before he rolls out. He digs through the crap on the table. He gets up and goes over to his pants hanging over a chair and digs through the pockets. Then he digs through his jacket by the desk. Finally he has to put on his pants, and his socks and shoes, and head out into the day looking for that ever elusive match.

This is how Fat City begins, and it gives you a real good feel for how this film will go. John Huston's 1972 piece is about small-time boxers in Stockton, CA. However, it's done in a non-linear, slice-of-life style that makes it interesting, if not real compelling. I know I've been jaded by American television, and Fat City almost lost me about half-way through. There is some action here -- some ring action -- and that's probably what kept me from falling asleep.

Keach is Billy Tully, a once promising fighter (if you believe him and his former manager) who has fallen on hard times thanks to whiskey and women. He runs into Ernie Munger, an eighteen year old played by Jeff Bridges, at the local Y and Tully thinks Ernie has a lot of promise after sparring with him for a few minutes. Tully tells Ernie to go see his old manager at the Lido Gym: "Tell him Billy Tully sent you."

In many ways the most pivotal character in this film is Ruben, the manager, played by Nicholas Colasanto. He is either the encourager toward greatness, or the enabler of dysfunction, depending on your perspective. Ruben obviously lives for his young fighters, trying desperately to see them to the success that he never realized.

Tully finds a woman in a bar who is a miserable alcoholic. He manages to take up with her while her other old man is in jail. This is a match made in hell if ever there was one, and the one-on-one exchanges between them make up a good portion of the story.

The kid decides to get married when he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant, but mostly this story is about the tragedy of Tully. He can't get off the sauce and he can't resist the messed up broads. Even after he makes a comeback, and returns to the ring. Keach's performance is the best part of Fat City. The movie consists of ring battles, and battles out of the ring; fights between boxers, and fights within all the characters.

Another late-night-weekend glad discovery, this time on Sundance. In reading about Fat City, many claim that it is John Huston's most underrated film, or his best, depending on whose opinion you come across. Anyway, if you like old Nixon-era indies, you should see this.

Posted by Wayne at February 13, 2005 02:52 PM
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