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Frederick V. Romana. The Boxing Filmography: American Features, 1920-2003.

Frederick V. Romano. The Boxing Filmography: American Features, 1920-2003. McFarland, 2004. 240 pages; $39.95.

Brutal Sport

Although sometimes referred to as the "sweet science," boxing is a brutal sport, which, nonetheless, enjoys considerable popularity in the United States and around the world. For many minority groups in the United States, such as the Irish, Jews, Italians, African Americans, and Latinos, boxing has offered a path to social mobility within a discriminatory culture in which more traditional business and educational alternatives are not readily available. It is also a favorite topic for intellectuals ranging from Ernest Hemingway to Norman Mailer to Joyce Carol Oates. Intellectuals seem attracted to the individualism of the sport in which the contestants must rely on their own skills, courage, and determination to survive. Filmmakers have also found prize fighting to be a rich source of drama in which to examine issues of race and class.

Accordingly, boxing historian Frederick V. Romano provides a valuable service to motion picture and sport historians with his filmography of one hundred American boxing titles from 1920-2003. Romano asserts that his list is comprehensive as the "overwhelming majority of boxing movies have been made in the United States" (1). His focus is upon films in which prize fighting is essential to the theme or the protagonist is a pugilist. The John Ford classic The Quiet Man (1954) would seem to fit within the parameters established by Romano, but the book includes no essay on the Ford photodrama. In addition, Romano does miss some important international features such as The Boxer (1997), featuring Daniel Day-Lewis, and the Czech film The Boxer and Death (1963).

While one may quibble about selections and criteria, Romano's work, drawing upon the resources of the New York Public Library, includes a brief synopsis of each film, production notes, and analysis of critical reviews. The essays on each film are well written and reflect the author's goal to emphasize the connection between actors and boxing. Evaluating the performance of Will Smith in Ali (2001), Romano states, "And while Smith failed to master all of the aspects of Ali's mercurial and often contradictory nature, he realized the importance of capturing Ali's voice--its rhythm, its tone, and its cadence" (9). Romano also praises the performance of Robert De Niro as Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (1980). Terming the Martin Scorsese production "the most significant boxing film ever made," Romano concludes that De Niro exhibited "La Motta's animalistic tendencies toward others with stark realism, powerfully bringing to life the disturbing effects of his inwardly directed anger, paranoia and jealousy" (157).

While Romano is obviously a fan of prize fighting and boxing films, his observations are not uncritical. For example, Romano insists that director Norman Jewison's Hurricane (1999) is hagiographic in its depiction of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. Romano argues, "In sanctifying Carter, the film portrays his title losing effort against Joey Giardello as another injustice perpetrated against him" (93). Romano also dismisses Rocky V (1990) as Sylvester Stallone's "final effort to wring the public's emotional towel for sympathy and money" (175).

The essays are entertaining and informative, while the editorial decision to list the selected films in alphabetical order makes the volume accessible to the reader. Nevertheless, the filmography generally fails to place the films within any historical and cultural perspective. Nor does the author include scholarly articles in his bibliography for each film. Thus, Romano's discussion of Rocky (1976) fails to consider the interpretation that the film was one of the first cinematic efforts to move beyond the Vietnam syndrome and Watergate; crafting a more affirmative definition of America that would resonate with the nostalgia evoked by the Presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

While Romano may not be a cultural historian, his well-researched filmography provides the information and foundation upon which scholars should be able to construct monographs placing and interpreting the boxing film genre within a broader historical and cultural context.

Ron Briley

Sandia Preparatory School.
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Author:Briley, Ron
Publication:Film & History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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