Southpaw Creed

But first, a short video on rooftop work of the Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium.  It reminds me of NFL Films; instead of sports inspirational, it’s steel inspirational.

And now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

Pit Southpaw (Antoine Fuqua, 2015) against Creed (Aaron Coogler, 2015) and you get a consideration of sacrifice for others vs. sacrifice for self.

wap deerc

Does it go without saying that Southpaw is a redemption narrative?  The story-line necessitates redemption as Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal), the protagonist, is getting older and life events force him to push himself to places he may never have taken seriously.  It’s not of a first chance or a second chance, but a recalibration of priorities.  Hope begins the film winning a match to the praise of a very supportive and realistic wife (Rachel McAdams) and proud daughter (a scene-stealing Oona Laurence).  What progresses as a possible sobering self-examination at how much longer he can be a boxer turns into a plea to transcend the status quo of aging as a boxer.  Hope gets into a situation where his actions indirectly lead to his wife’s death and his daughter is placed into social services.  The only way for him to get her back is to demonstrate to the courts, to society, and to himself that the fruits of his athletic labor stand for more than superficial glory.

Kurt Sutter, the screenwriter for Southpaw, said in the making-of-featurette, “You know, there’s two things that should not go together: an adoring father and uncontrollable rage.”  Billy Hope is the embodiment of these two qualities.  He channels rage in the ring to beat his opponents, as any effective boxer would, but then outside of it, he displays undeniable affection and paternal love for his daughter as well as the tendency to retaliate to taunts with violence.  As sports films (and sports in popular media) teach, off-field violence does nobody any good.  At best you’re left with a late night/early morning PR fix and at worst you may be charged with a crime.

In contrast to Gyllenhaal’s light heavyweight champion, Michael B. Jordan‘s Adonis Johnson (Donnie) is a young man journeying to self-identity.  His fists, his athletic talents, and his boxing gifts (honed by Rocky Balboa [Sylvester Stallone] himself) compel him to pursue his bliss out from a career in finance and into the boxing ring.  His demons are rooted in self-doubt and self-preservation and it isn’t until he accepts the legacy of his past that he can triumph.  Creed follows Johnson from childhood to adulthood — a rite of passage narrative spotlighting confidence and humility.

Aesthetically, the boxing sequences in Southpaw, especially the last match, take a lot of cues from televised boxing.  It seeks a verisimilitude of the media text itself.  Professional boxers, analysts, HBO camera crew.  Fuqua wanted that seamless representation of the boxing.  Creed makes similar references through Donnie’s interaction with media and through furthering the plot (the second ‘boxing’ sequence consists of Donnie watching a Creed vs. Rocky fight on YouTube; information about Ricky Conlan is presented through ESPN-esque TV segments; the last boxing sequence/match between Conlan and Creed).

Creed comes from an iconic breed, though, so there is still very much a “filmic” quality to these representations.  I prefer it as a boxing film and a sports inspirational because it’s about Donnie.  He’s doing everything for himself.  His accomplishments carry additional meanings, but he’s still conquering his own pride and vulnerabilities not only to prove his own self-worth (to himself) but also to be free of self-imposed burdens of that worth.  Southpaw is fine as a film; it’s solid in that start-over-again theme .  How Southpaw and Creed differ as boxing films, though, is that the former could be about a different sport.  Gyllenhaal could’ve been a fencer, a runner, a golfer, or even a competitive poker player.



Noteworthy asides

~ Sound editing is very important in boxing films.  The synchronization of the sound and the visuals in boxing sequences is very important.

~ Forest Whitaker portrays Jake Gyllenhaal’s trainer in Southpaw and after a second screening, I see his character as more of a counterpart to Bianca (Tessa Thompson) in Creed.  One of the sports movies tropes is the female love interest that either motivates the protagonist or distracts him and is thus part of narrative conflict.  True, the story-line in Creed as it pertains to Bianca does involve misunderstandings and disagreements that affect Donnie’s boxing, but ultimately, her life circumstances help to propel him forward. Likewise, Forest Whitaker’s character challenges and refines Billy Hope’s path to success.

~ The DVD for Creed contains many deleted scenes, all top-notch quality so they were likely cut much closer to the time of theatrical release.

8 thoughts on “Southpaw Creed

  1. Christopher

    Ces deux films nous rappeler que la boxe a pratiquement disparu de l’esprit américain. Cela n’est pas sans importance parce que la boxe a toujours fait partie intégrante de la culture américaine.

    Il fut un temps – pas si longtemps – où tout le monde – même s’ils étaient des petits bébés ou femmes âgées – savaient qui etait le champion actuel du monde des poids lourds. Il était aussi connu que le président des États-Unis.

    Le champion – par exemple Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson, Joe Frazier – etait l’incarnation de tout ce qui était bon en Amérique. Leurs histoires etaient les histoires de l’Amérique.

    Mais aujourd’hui? Quelqu’un sait qui est le champion des poids lourds actuel?

    Ça veut dire quoi pour la situation actuelle de la culture américaine, dont le phénomène de Donald Trump est un symptôme?

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      You raise a good question.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the cinematic and journalistic depictions and highlights of boxing (as opposed to basketball, football, or baseball) haven’t altered on account of issues like national security, privacy vs safety, police violence, gun violence, the not-so-separation-between-church-and-state…

      The irony is that American society was just as (if not more) volatile during the Vietnam war and Civil Rights movement. There could be a perceived decrease in the (symbolic) relevancy of the boxer…despite its strong presence online and popularity as exercise. See HBO, Bleacher Report, ESPN, BBC, FitDay, Women’s Health

      From a marketing, ad-revenue, and ad campaign perspective, do boxing events and boxers’ lives bring the kind of public attention necessary for brands, broadcasters, and other media outlets to invest in them? I mean invest both monetarily and narratively. It may be the same ‘ol, same ‘ol to some marketing professionals, but to others, the metrics have to be right for more editorial attention. Je suppose.

  2. Christopher

    You spoke of “…..a perceived decrease in the (symbolic) relevancy of the boxer…….”

    This is reflected in the decline of boxing as a marquee spectator “sport”. But this is offset by the rise of MMA (I much prefer the term “cage fighting”). I suggest that the new “cage fighting” is simply, for all intents and purposes, the old boxing, but in a new bottle (so to speak).

    While I’m decidedly not a fan of “cage fighting”, I can’t help but be assailed by it on TV screens whenever I’m in a sports bar. And I can’t help noticing that, unlike with the old boxing, “cage fighting”‘s practitioners seem mostly young white guys, heavily tattooed, and with shaven heads.

    I’m going to guess they are, for the most past, without a college or university education, and so belong to that strata of today’s society that can’t find jobs, and whose economic prospects have otherwise gone downhill. These are the guys who are being attracted by the siren call of Donald Trump – are they not?

    Perhaps “cage fighting”‘s practitioners are the sons of those “white” Americans of between 45 and 54 who are *committing suicide* in such numbers that the overall “white” death rate is increasing – which isn’t the case with all the other societal groups.

    This bespeaks a cultural void and and spiritual despair in “white” America that is finding expression in “cage fighting”, as well as in Donald Trump.

    “Cage Fighting and the Rise of Donald Trump”. I’m going to be looking for such a title among the newly published volumes during future visits to bookstores……….

    1. sittingpugs Post author

      MMA fighting as the new “boxing” — I can see that stance (no pun intended) definitely from a marketing POV. I did some googling and found this article from last year on the high incidence of reported domestic abuse in MMA fighting. Apparently, anyone who wants to get involved in MMA can do so as long as they pass very basic qualifications.

      1. Christopher

        I found the graph of interest, showing that NFL players are significantly less likely to beat their wives or girlfriends than are males generally, quite apart from cage-fighters.

        What, though, about the male practitioners of other sports – basketball, baseball, hockey, even………boxing? There may well be data lurking somewhere on the internet about how likely they are to beat their female partners, compared with cage fighters, or with males generally.

        To change tack ever so slightly. Given that organised dog-fighting is now illegal because of its inherent cruelty to the dogs, why shouldn’t organised human-fighting – like cage fighting and boxing – also be made illegal because of their inherent cruelty to the humans?

        1. sittingpugs Post author

          Excepting for instances when they don’t have a say in the matter, humans choose to act in whatever manner. They sign a waiver, weigh pros and cons, they decide certain behaviors outweigh the risks of negative consequence. People still hunt animals for sport, for fun, and in ideal cases for meat legally. People should not hunt animals for sport or for fun. People should not hunt people for sport or for fun.

          What’s the difference between MMA and a street fight filmed by a phone? Production values, a modicum of governance, and the intentions not to kill but to pit brawn against brawn. Once recognized as a proper field of play, sanctioned violence can be put full on display.

          What makes even less sense to me that people walk and spit or that women put make-up on in the car while driving.

  3. Pingback: Michael B. Jordan eats hot wings | Sitting Pugs: Sports Movies

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