Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Film, Foxcatcher, and Wrestling

(This is a work in progress...I'm featuring quotable quotes from the movie reviews of Foxcatcher on 1. the portrayal of wrestling in the movie, and 2. the critics' opinions on the sport itself -- from the latter's literary treatment and most-likely layman’s perspective. Already widely recognized as one of the best films of the year, Foxcatcher is a true crime drama revolving around the relationships between the Olympic champion brothers Mark and Dave Schultz and their former sponsor, the eccentric tycoon John du Pont. It stars Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo; directed by Bennet Miller. Foxcatcher is currently showing in theaters in the USA:http://sonyclassics.com/foxcatcher/dates.html.)

Consider this as my Christmas gift (this December 22, 2014 update), and a little divergence: This time, our quote is not from a movie critic, but from a Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic who claims she is "naturally drawn to the physical dimensions of performance," and "this film offers a banquet." Likewise, her article is an appreciative banquet on the art of wrestling (and wrestlers), on how the sport danced on Foxcatcher's movie reel. From What made Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum cry when filming "Foxcatcher"? (by Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post, December 19, 2014):

Not only do Ruffalo and Tatum sport impressively hulky physiques as the brothers David and Mark Schultz, but they also move like wrestlers, with an authentic blocky, top-heavy carriage. [...]
 Both Ruffalo and Tatum have compressed, forward-sloping postures, like big teddy bears that you would never, ever cross. That posture comes from the shoulders, which take so much pressure in the sport, and the chest, which is developed more than the back. It gives the impression the beefy pectorals are dragging the body down. The actors also adopted the wrestler’s toe-in walk with a slight lateral roll, and rigid tree-trunk torsos. They have the cauliflower ears.
 They have no necks. [...]
 Ruffalo and Tatum start working out in the gym, clenching each other in a wrestling warmup that could also be a brotherly hug, or a dance. They are one lump, leaning and pressing on each other. For a few moments you’re not sure what’s going on. Are they fighting, embracing, horsing around?
All you hear is breathing and footfalls. It becomes a muffled tap dance. First slow and soft, like two plush bears. Then fast and staccato. There’s a sudden move and Ruffalo’s head jerks back. He wipes his nose on his shoulder; a bloodstain blooms there like a rose. For a tense second you wonder if he’s going to haul off and return the blow, but he only steps back, snorts out more blood and nods in sober admiration of his brother’s move.
Wrestling as a "muffled tap dance," with beats slow, then fast and in staccato. And then "There's Blood On The Dance Floor" -- or mat. 

Merry Christmas! 

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From Cannes Review: Bennett Miller's 'Foxcatcher'...(by Jessica Kiang, The Playlist, May 19 2014):
...wrestling is not a glamor sport of endorsement deals and Hollywood wives. 
Ours is a sport of and for beautiful (though not necessarily glamorous) people. ;)  
...an interiority of loneliness and self-loathing that by the end we could even see coming across even in his style of wrestling. Which, incidentally deserves praise all its own—we’re no experts in the sport, but Tatum and Ruffalo both totally convinced in those fight scenes, especially the extended one of the two of them training that begins the film and that tells you, in course of a session that goes from cordial to aggressive, everything you need to know about their relationship.
Wrestling as a medium of inner turmoil. Wrestling as a language that can tell a story on its own. Interesting.

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From Foxcatcher: A wrestling match with madness (by Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail Nov. 28, 2014):

 ...the speed and violence of the sport they love – is captured in the opening scene: a prolonged practice session between the two brothers in an empty gym.
"Speed and violence"; fast and furious...

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From 'Foxcatcher' a gripping story of seduction, rejection,murder (by Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 13, 2014):

…wrestling, an unforgiving sport with demands and pressures that are as much psychological as physical, a naked sport that forces intimacy on its participants but finally leaves them with absolutely nowhere to hide.

Well, you try to hide, and then you get called for passivity…or disqualified due to default. ;)

"Foxcatcher" begins in 1987 with Mark working out in a college gym, practicing takedowns on a dummy with a sullen, glowering ferocity that makes him look frightening as well as somehow vulnerable.

Hmm, first impression lasts: So far, three of our movie reviews featured here (see the other two below) have written dramatically about the first scene which shows Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) practicing with the dummy.

...the actors allow their wrestling moves to reflect their relationship is so intuitively done here that Bennett said at Cannes (where "Foxcatcher" won him the director prize) that it enabled him to cut an entire scene of dialogue.

Yeah! Let the wrestling do the talking!

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From Cannes 2014: Foxcatcher Review - Steve Carell gets to grips with his dark side (by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, May 19, 2014):

The act of wrestling itself is an absorbing and obviously metaphorical contest. It is an unerotic clinch: as intimate as dancing. In an early training encounter, Mark is clearly furious with himself for being bested by Dave and accidentally-on-purpose butts him in the face. Dave just wipes away the blood and carries on. He doesn't say anything and his manly reticence and forgiveness just makes Mark's sense of defeat worse. 

Wrestling as real sport; wrestling as metaphor...

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From Taken Down by Twisted Ambition, Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in 'Foxcatcher' (by Manohla Dargis, New York Times, Nov. 13, 2014):

The first time you see Mark he’s alone in a gym wrestling with a grappling dummy, an apparatus that looks like an anthropomorphized boxing bag, complete with head and stubby arms. It’s a crude pas de deux, somewhat like watching Gene Kelly get frisky with a beanbag, and hypnotic because of its exotic choreography. It’s also off-putting because there’s something slightly comic and borderline pathetic about a man who is, for all intents and purposes, wrestling with himself.' [...]
“Some of the best scenes in the movie are of the brothers, including an early one in which they train in their old gym, hitting and grasping in a pantomime of aggression and affection, the crowns of their heads touching like the antlers of young stags testing each other. It’s rare to see such physical male intimacy on screen, especially among men not bonded by war. And it’s in the depictions of this intimacy, in its tangle of bodies and desires — the images of John squirming on top of and below other men say more than any of his pitiful speeches — that “Foxcatcher” rises to the occasion of real tragedy.

The wrestling dummy as “an anthropomorphized boxing bag, complete with head and stubby arms," and wrestling with “the crowns of their heads touching like the antlers of young stags testing each other”… Five points each!

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From 'Foxcatcher,' a quietly devastating drama (by Ty Burr, Boston Globe, Nov. 25, 2014):

When we first see him (Mark Schultz as played by Channing Tatum), he’s in an empty practice room, wrestling with all his might against a faceless dummy. It’s an image that haunts the rest of the film.
The "faceless dummy" alone is a haunting thing: it reminds me of the figure of a charred human remains -- with limbs burned into stubs. I remember years ago when our athlete in the UP Wrestling Club kept our dummy in her garage. Her mom, upon finding it there, had hair standing on end, as she thought it was a dead man. 
“Foxcatcher” dramatizes how Mark, in the wake of the brothers both winning gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, returned to a life of barely scraping by, speaking to auditoriums of bored schoolchildren until du Pont invited him to his private wrestling center at Foxcatcher Farms. A millionaire recluse, du Pont fancied himself a patron and a patriot, and he saw the sport — the most elemental of athletic competitions — as a way to prove his merit in the eyes of his distant mother (Vanessa Redgrave)...
True, ours is the most elemental of athletic competitions

Note: I'm simultaneously posting this running project on the Wrestling Association of the Philippines Facebook page.

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