Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fight Club

Keep in mind that when I woke up this morning I was tremendously crushed that there was no rain. For three winters that I have lived in the City proper now, I have looked forward to each rainy season as a perfect excuse to take a few months' break from exploring the City and to either camp in the apartment tapping away on the keys or make camp in an old and freshly re-painted cafe with my fountain pens and journals, looking out a streaming world beyond the plate-glass backward letters of the cafe windows. For three winters I have been disappointed and discombobulated in this respect.

You see, I hail from the Midwest, where most mothers, particularly the rural ones, often admonished their kids on sunny days to "go outside while it's nice." For those readers in the coastal land I live in now, rain/snow/hail/ice happens year-round in the Midwest, a constant threat of spoiling a good day of vitamin D. For those of us in the Golden State, though, rain comes all at once, well-organized that way, and very convenient for hybernators such as myself.

Until we hit a three year drought. Thanks, global warmers.

So today was a compromise--first, climb Moraga while the weather is nice. Second, go see "The Wrestler."

Yeah, I can see you wrinkling your eyebrows on that one. Jo, WHY IN GOD'S NAME DO YOU, OF ALL PEOPLE, WANT TO SEE "THE WRESTLER?"

  • I heard it was good.

  • I heard Springsteen sang a song in it.

  • It's up for Academy Awards. (Hey, I don't care for hip-hop or pimps and loved "Hustle & Flow," which won an Academy for best song.)

  • I had a crush on Mickey Rourke in earlier years. Can't remember which movie right now, but it was early Rourke.

  • I heard Springsteen sang a song in it. Oh.

It would probably be safe to say that I don't like wrestling, at all, as a sport. (As a sexual position is a different matter...ahem.) This movie didn't sugar-coat the gruesome aspects either. The match that brings on Randy "The Ram" Robinson's heart attack (Randy is played by Rourke) is probably the ugliest violence I have seen since the opening Normandy scenes of "Saving Private Ryan"--no one is missing body parts, but they should be (not to mention the fact that two men should have a pretty healthy bout of tetanus from that scene), and after the match the scene stays grisly while Randy fights the nausea that comes with the heart attack. Barring the gore, though, the scene (as well as the whole movie) is shot with exquisite balance. The camera dances back and forth from the fight to the objects being removed from Randy's body, as though the fight is offering a lame explanation for the staples, barbs, pushpins, and glass fragments extracted from Randy with tweezers. The entire aftermath shows Randy fighting the nausea as the medics work on him, and you don't blame him, but it turns out these props are par for the course, and the nausea has nothing to do with the foreign, inexplicable objects in him. It's an incredible piece of cinema.

The entire movie, though, as I have said before, is pretty incredible. It's about 30% fighting and about 70% life, by the way, in case you're gauging whether it's worth it. Scenes with costar Marisa Tomei, as Cassidy/Pam the stripper, are ringed with 1980's love of culture, as though a strange new poet popped up as a dancing wrestler. (If you love '80's metal, you will need the soundtrack to this movie. Randy and Cassidy agree that the music of the '90's "fuckin' sucked.") Randy gives Cassidy a lap dance in an afternoon bar scene, and both are fully clothed, and the dance makes the big bear of Rourke damn near cuddly. Randy also does some great dancing with his daughter Stephanie, played by Evan Rachel Wood. (I found her distracting through her scenes, though..."where have I scene this chick?" Got home and found out I had seen her in "The Upside of Anger" and an "West Wing" episode.)


In contrast to this work of art by Rourke et al, I offer up some link of real life fighting, which is the passing of Jose Torres this past week at the age of 72 in Puerto Rico. As I said, I don't follow fighting of any kind much, and even though Torres was a light/heavyweight champion of the world, I didn't know him from that. Torres was familiar to me because of his literary ties.

You heard me.

Torres was close friends with authors Pete Hamill (who gave him his first book in English) and Norman Mailer (who traded boxing tips from Torres in exchange for editing Torres's writings). Torres also wrote books about other famous boxers, like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. This past week on the radio program "Fresh Air," Teri Gross replayed an interview with Torres from 1989, and asked Torres about his interview with Mike Tyson and Tyson's claim of sleeping with 24 women in one night. Torres remarked that he shrugged when Tyson told him, as though it was no big deal, and joked with Tyson that most of Tyson's orgasms must last longer than Tyson's fights. Tyson didn't find that funny. Torres and Gross did though, and I have to admit that I got a pretty good laugh from that myself.

The question that Gross asked Torres that blew me away, however, was this one: "What was the worst punch you ever took?"

And Torres started his reply with, "The best punch I ever took was..." Oh, I'm sure he heard her. Oh, I'm sure he understood her. The whole interview was like that--what's bad, worn leather flipped over to reveal its soft, supple suede side. Randy "The Ram" Robinson tries on the same thing in the last match of the movie. He takes the mic from the announcer and tells us all that this looks bad, and he royally fucked up a lot of things, but he's still here. Look at him, he's still here. Seemed to work for Torres in 1989, The Ram in this film, and Rourke in Hollywood. Bless their failing/war-torn hearts.

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