Monday, 6 August 2012
Episode 5: blood, sweat and tears...and buff men
I like to watch men fight. With brute force but also with skill. If possible with some kind of dramatic stake at play. And preferably wearing minimal clothing. Sweat glistening on taut skin with just the right amount of blood and bruising.
Now to lessen your gasps of horror I must specify that I like men fighting in films. Real movies. Not your borderline snuff youtube fare. Real life fights aren't pleasurable in my opinion, nor esthetic. Rarely justified and if you stand too close things usually get messy. I have nothing against throwing the odd well-deserved punch or bitch slap (a certain Texan born again goth chick could attest to the skill of my left hook but I shouldn't brag). The aftermath of a real fight can have its allure. Nursing a broken face, especially when it is a handsome broken face, has its charm. But real fights have real consequences, broken lives in addition to broken cartilage and all that blah. I prefer celluloid violence, passionately cheering on the underdog for 6.8 minutes even though the outcome is obvious. Yelling at my TV screen like a moron. Pulse racing at the sheer homoerotic thrill of it all.
So let's talk about these boys. I'm no fight movie expert. I actually googled Best Fight Movies and didn't know half of the results nor particularly agreed with the ones I did know. Let's just say this is my own condensed gallery. I watched Warrior the other night. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton. No offense to either of these chaps but if I could Frankenstein Tom's head onto Joel's body and have the result delivered to my doorstep I would be a happy camper, at least for a few days. Why the switcharoo? Watch the movie. Tom's overdeveloped Godzilla trapezoids are just too over the top, even for me. And Joel's lips are just too inexistent for any real use. But back to the fight scenes. The nice thing about the MMA and UFC stuff as opposed to straight boxing flicks is that it gets dirty real fast. I mean why settle for a clean uppercut when you can enjoy kicking, grappling, make Hogan proud wrestling moves and even artistic strangulation? All with shiny bodies, appropriate grunts and minus the smell. In this movie, true to form, all the bad guys have awful haircuts and ridiculous permanent glares but T and J throttle and get throttled with consistent pathos and the sheen of valor. Whether it's because the nasty bank is going to take away the house or the grief of losing your boyfriend (oops comrade) in arms in Irak, these boys give it all, with heart. The final fight, pitting brother against brother is true glistening Greek myth come to life. It manages to be both completely screamingly camp and incredibly hardcore masculine. And what could be more attractive than that?
Warrior does have a huge debt to pay though. Because let's face it, if it hadn't been for Jean-Claude Van Damme you wouldn't be seeing any Oscar-worthy white boys fighting on screen today. I'm serious. JCVD's Kickboxer and Bloodsport began the noble white boys quest for blood stained valor. Sure Rocky Balboa and LaMotta's broken noses are the holy grail. But those are boxing movies, not the same as fighting movies. And Bruce Lee and the Asian legacy are their own separate realm. JCVD introduced an entire skinny pimply faced generation to the epic power of the over-your-head-kick-motherfucker. I mean he made dancing badly in pleated pants while beating up bar patrons cool. I wouldn't recommend re-watching these movies sober, they have not aged well, but you should remember the mixture of brutality and dare I say ballet fondly. JC's characters fought for a reason more noble than mere financial gain, and paved the way for movies like The Wrestler, The Fighter and Warrior to be considered as more than just base entertainment.
Some good fight movies will never reach intellectual pseudo-respectability but still deserve recognition. In this category there is a shining star: Roadhouse, Patrick Swayze's god awful barroom brawl movie is genius in some moments. He almost rips the other guy's throat out and is still the hero! Wearing pastel sleeveless tshirts! Oh and did I mention his character is an NYU Philosophy graduate who becomes a nationally-famous bouncer? Yea Patrick!
In terms of fight valor I do have to say the prize goes to Viggo Mortensen for his naked Russian steam room beating. Now some of you may scream but what about Fight Club at this point? In my opinion a very good but even more so overrated movie. Because honestly, that film is more about angst and interior turmoil than real purposeful head bashing. And way too many annoying hipster boys are devout followers of it. Although I have to say that I always do enjoy watching Edward Norton beat the crap out of Jared Leto... But back to Eastern Promises and hubba bubba Viggo. There have actually been theses' written about that knife fight. And to be honest it isn't about hitting pause at the right moment to catch Viggo's naughty bits. Frankly they jangle around enough not to warrant a pause button. The scene is brutal with a capital B, lasts what seems to be hours but is actually only 3 and a half minutes (it took two days to film) and is.... absolutely beautiful. Am not saying that in a kinky way. Well not entirely. The beauty of it is the blatant manipulation that Cronenberg subjects us to. By having Viggo naked and his two attackers fully clothed, in black no less, he creates the perfect representation of man's vulnerability when faced with brutal fate. It's the fragility of the "I" matched to the overwhelming "we", the collective exerting revenge on the wayward individual. The metaphor is obvious but nonetheless effective. And, well, Viggo is naked.
But I should talk about the grail. Some people prefer Raging Bull over Rocky like others prefer Keith over Mick. Raging Bull is often considered cooler, more underground, rawer, same as Keith. But Rocky has weathered the years, spawned offspring, some malformed and some worthy of daddy-o. And please the resounding "Adriaaaaaaan!!!" is (almost) as worthy as the eponymous "Stellaaaaaaaaaa!!". Rocky Balboa was a working class hero, Sylvester Stallone keeps going with the Expendables 2 (5? 6?) but in a way that paradox makes it even better. The blood sweat and tears are worthy in all of the Rocky movies, even the worse ones (Rocky 4 anyone?). And for my generation Rocky is one of those movies where we remember exactly where we were when we first saw them. I shadow-boxed in front of my mirror after watching the first one on VHS in 1982 in London, and I performed the same moves 25 years later when Balboa came out. As a 9 year-old I remember thinking how cool those shiny guys looked in the ring. There was no disgust nor fear at the violence, just amazement at the nobility of it all. A child's naiveté of course but not an unpleasant one. The Wrestler is a gem too but I have to say that I prefer watching Mickey scrap it up in the early years and yes it is about physique here but come on who are we kidding? I won't lie, the main reason I enjoy watching all these boys fight is because they look hot doing so. In a way that is quasi-impossible in a real life fight. Getting punched and kicked hurts and pain is rarely pretty. But on screen the angles are artistic, the lighting purposeful, the music anthemic and grrr these are men, hear them roar. Just like modern guys are supposed to have feelings, and cry and change diapers, modern woman are supposed to go for the sensitive deep type. And we do. On the muscle scale most of my boyfriends have been on the never-swatted-more-than-a-fly end of the spectrum. And I have no negative remarks to make on their masculinity (well almost none). But buff must be nice. Not man-boobs bull-neck buff, but buff, bulgy and beautiful (the three Bs) made out of real strength and not just steroid air pumps. And well, while we're at it buff and an extra B for brainy. I guess that would just be greedy though....
Time to go watch another movie.