Futile Dreams

19720901-10FAT CITY starring Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Nick Colasanto. Screenplay by Leonard Gardner, based on his novel. Music Kris Kristofferson. Produced by Ray Stark and John Huston. DIRECTED BY JOHN HUSTON. A Columbia Pictures and Rastar Productions Presentation released by Columbia-Warner Distributors.

Life is indestructibly futile and how better to show this than through the lives of 2 boxers in a small town in rural America — the “real America”; it’s either boxing or slaving in the fields for 50c an hour; America isn’t all 5th Avenue New York and nor is life. This isn’t really a boxing picture either – boxing is used symbolically through the actual fight scenes to portray the battering of life. The older boxer Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) aged 30 is battered, broken and alcoholic; Ernie Munger the younger one, played by Jeff Bridges is eager and enthusiastic at the beginning of the film and by the end, after 6 fights, he has a cauliflower nose, a wife and a baby just because he’s given way to his sex drive one dark rainy night in the back of a car. Sods Law! Payment for orgasm: one car stuck in the mud; one pregnant girl he’s got to marry.

As with all John Huston movies the pace is slow and the atmosphere electric. Every small town is here in this movie, sad, seedy, depressing, lonely, where a man is irrevocably trapped for life. Job, wife, kids, the same friends every night he hasn’t really any choice. And if you try and raise yourself above it Bam! Bam! and this is the point of the boxing theme. The film was actually made in Stockton a typical small American town, and in its bars, boxing rings and surrounding flat fields. The real populace are used in all location scenes and their reactions unrehearsed; most of the boxers are actually played by boxers.

While Billy is hanging around one of the numerous small gyms in the town he sees young 18-year-old Ernie “fooling” with boxing gloves on. He thinks he has talent and sends him to his old trainer, small, squat, capitalist and fatherly, brilliantly caricatured by Nick Colassanto. This reminds lonely, alcoholic Billy of the comeback he’s always planning to make, and after his girlfriend, too alcoholic and ugly to still be a paid whore, runs out on him, he goes back to the trainer who arranges a pro bout with another ageing heavyweight, who an hour before the fight is peeing blood. They both swim around the ring for a few rounds, before Billy knocks him out, but only to find that after weeks of not drinking and hard training he’s left with only $100. Sometime later he’s wandering around a parking lot blind drunk when he comes across young Ernie getting into his car, rushing back to his wife and baby. He reluctantly agrees to have a cup of coffee with Billy who pleads with him not to leave him alone. They sit in an enormous billiards room with a coffee bar at one end of it. It’s been the same for 50 years and will be for the next 50. The old man who serves the coffee can barely move and one supposes that if he was lifted from behind the counter he’d disintegrate. The camera stands still over Billy’s face and pans over the groups of men methodically playing cards in the same groups as they always have and always will. END OF FILM.

Depressing, disillusioning: life brilliantly mirrored. Don’t miss it.