Boxing At The Movies: Kings Of The Ring

Thursday 28 February 2013, 14:41

Danny Leigh Danny Leigh Presenter

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Looking through old family photos recently, I found one of me taken in the spring of 1982. That makes me 10, by which time I was already besotted with films.

But in the picture I'm nowhere near a cinema. Instead, with a look of earnest concentration, I'm reading an inky copy of the weekly magazine Boxing News.

I loved boxing then as I still do now, having grown up watching bouts from the Albert Hall or Wembley Arena on the BBC. And my two youthful passions came together in the boxing movie.

Danny Leigh 'The ring is where you stand alone to be tested'

 

So naturally I seized the chance to make Boxing At The Movies: Kings Of The Ring, a documentary that tells the story of the boxing film from the earliest days of the motion picture through the hardscrabble 30s, the noir 50s, on into the present day.

Given my age, my first big-screen experience would come with a definitively 80s flavour – Rocky III, with Sylvester Stallone's much-loved hero facing brutal challenger Clubber Lang.

But while I would see more critically admired fight films in years to come, I still remember the jolt it sent through the shabby cinema, the charge of emotion and adrenalin every boxing movie has in its make-up.

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Again and again filmmakers have returned to tales of the ring

Three decades later, I found myself filming at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, at the foot of what are known around the world after their use by Stallone as the Rocky Steps.

Even at dusk the nearby statue of his most famous character had drawn a queue of visitors eager to have their picture taken with it, kids, grandparents and groups of muscle-bound dudes all hoisting their arms aloft besides the bronze Italian Stallion.

But for all Rocky's adoration, if the boxing film has a spiritual home, it's not Philadelphia – but 100 miles north in New York.

There, the cast of the boxing movie story includes gangsters, cinematic pioneers, political radicals, and everyone from Mike Tyson to Stanley Kubrick. And of course Martin Scorsese, creator of the peerless Raging Bull.

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Killer's Kiss: Kubrick was fastidious in capturing the people and Manhattan he already knew intimately

To make our documentary, director Angus McIntyre and I criss-crossed Manhattan from Harlem to the Lower East Side – and just as every writer, fighter or filmmaker we talked to wanted to discuss Scorsese's masterpiece, so everywhere we went, someone claimed a moment from it had been filmed where we stood.

An elderly attendant in a cramped parking lot swore blind to us that a major scene had been shot right there on the tarmac, though he seemed uncertain as to which.

Re-watching the movie for the umpteenth time that night in my hotel room, I confess I couldn't find it either.

Maybe I should look again – with a film this good, the search would never be a chore. And for old times' sake I might just look out Rocky III as well.

Danny Leigh is the presenter of Boxing At The Movies: Kings Of The Ring.

Boxing At The Movies: Kings Of The Ring is on BBC Four at 9pm on Sunday, 3 March. For further programme times, please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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Comments

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1.

    Best boxing movie of all time is not Rocky, Raging Bull, or The Fighter. The title belongs to John Huston's Fat City. Great book too.

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    Comment number 2.

    Cinderella Man has got to be one of the best boxing movies of all time.

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    Comment number 3.

    Leeds1970, yes and yes.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 4.

    Rocky IV, for best use of montage. Equals the great Eisenstein.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 5.

    There are so many good boxing films and documentary films it is impossible to choose the best, but Woody Harrelson and Antonion Banderas in "Play It To The Bone" is easily the worst boxing film ever made. FACT!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 6.

    I know its an MMA film and not boxing, but Warrior wa absolutely awesome, great performances all round.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 7.

    Rocky films will always have a special effect on me (well at least 1-4), not seen Raging Bull yet, and agreed on Warrior

  • rate this
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    Comment number 8.

    I think the greatest one I've seen, certainly the most realistic, was Crying Fist.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 9.

    Dunk8 there are much worst boxing movies out there than 'Play It To The Bone', The Great White Hype starring Samual L Jackson, The Hammer and Rocky V are just 3 that spring to mind!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 10.

    i remember mum buying Rocky 3 off the guy selling pirate videos in 82', best christmas present, still know all the words now, i'm 40 on monday ! Great film, still love it.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 11.

    'The Set Up' by Robert Wise or as said above 'Fat City'.

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    Comment number 12.

    The Raging Bull is probably the greatest boxing movie ever made. The use of an anti-here is what makes it much more interesting than Rocky, which is great in is own right, however does not have the cinematic prowess which was introduced into The Raging Bull.

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    Comment number 13.

    The Rocky films have my heart, the amount of dead arms that were dished out as a kid when we went nuts about a particular fight scene are too many to count. I have to give a nod to Raging Bull, but, Clint Eastwoods Million Dollar Baby is a brilliant film that people have to watch at least once in their life time!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 14.

    Best documentary would go to the amazingly good "When We Were Kings". Watch it! (And Million Dollar Baby as I said in my last comment)

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    Comment number 15.

    A very good film is 'The Harder They Fall' - 1956. Humphrey Bogart's last film, loosely based on the boxer Primo Carnera and featuring ex champs Max Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott.

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    Comment number 16.

    Any Old Port with Stan & Ollie gets my vote. Seriously though I always cry at the music in the closing credits of Raging Bull. Beautiful!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 17.

    Watching this now, you've just said "Stanley Kubrick took photos of heavyweight champ Rocky Graziano". Some boxing fan you are. Do a bit more research.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 18.

    Raging Bull must rate among the greatest of boxing movies. So why only a fleeting glimse at the end of the programme? Rocky's a mere lightweight.

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    Comment number 19.

    FACTUAL ERROR! Rocky Graziano was the middleweight champion, not the heavyweight. Tut, tut. Furthermore, movies that were very important that were missed, The Kid (Wallace Beery), Prizefighter and the Lady(staring then heavyweight champ Max Baer), Champion(Kirk Douglas), Somebody up there likes me(Paul Newman, about Graziano), Hurricane (Denzel Washington), and most importantly Requiem for a Heavyweight, (movie version staring Anthony Quinn).

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 20.

    To Danny Leigh,(these words have music and are awaiting a boxing movie..please help make it happen, for the love of boxing..happy to email you the complete song..just say the word..it is dedicated to the courage of the late great "Smokin' Joe Frazier".It's called RESURRECTION and needs a home in History).

    RESURRECTION

    Verse 1

    This bottom rope's,
    Where i've been you'll find,
    And i've fallen here,
    For the very last time,
    'Cause life always changes,
    In different directions,
    And i swear you'll witness,
    My resurrection.

    CHORUS

    OHHHHH...nothing left to lose,
    AHHHHH...everything to gain,
    And from these ashes, these ashes,
    I know, I'LL RISE AGAIN,
    I KNOW!!!...I'LL RISE AGAIN.

    Verse 2

    Unfortunately,
    I hit that old incline,
    And down on my knees,
    Never seeing the signs,
    Though fate often pushes,
    And without detection,
    And i apologise here,
    If i blew our connection,

    CHORUS again.

    BRIDGE.

    YOU CAN KICK ME DOWN,
    DO IT IF YOU DARE,
    BUT MY HEART SHALL APPEAR,
    ...AGAIN I SWEAR,
    YOU MAY HIT ME HARD,
    AND MY BODY MAY TEAR,
    BUT MY SOUL WILL STEP UP,
    TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY SOMEWHERE.

    CHORUS here again to finish.

    LYRICS..D.PARSONS(copy written 2010)

    END.


    I DEDICATE THIS PIECE OF WORK TO EVERY WARRIOR WHO IS PREPARED TO STEP THROUGH THE ROPES OF A RING...I SALUTE YOU ALL AND MAY YOU CARRY THESE WORDS WITH YOU AS AND WHEN YOU NEED THEM.

 

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