The Champ (1931)

13 08 2008

As far as I’m concerned, this is absolutely one of the very best films of the 1930s, if not the very best. It probably helps a great deal that King Vidor seems to have been a big influence on many of my favorite Japanese directors of the same time period. However, what is even greater is how the narrative goes a predictable route for so long only to spit in the face of every sports film cliché at the very end. It is probably also worth mentioning that this came before sports films clichés were even established, which makes the downbeat ending all the more remarkable.

Andy, or “The Champ” as he is often called, is a long retired boxer living alone with his son, Dink. He hopes his boxing career can make a comeback but booze and gambling seem to be his highest priorities. He is able to maintain a life for him and his son with a string of good luck, which goes so far that he ends up buying his son a horse. Dink is eager to enter his new horse, who he affectionately names “Little Champ”, into a race. At the racetrack, Dink bumps into Linda, who simply seems like a friendly lady, but as it turns out, is actually Dink’s mother. Now aware of her son’s existence, she tries to buy him from Andy, but Dink is too attached to his father.

By only watching one of his films, I can already tell that Vidor deserves to be mentioned alongside Shimizu and Renoir, who both seem to have been greatly influenced by him. He definitely hasthe same sort of visual resourcefulness, not to mention an equally poetic overall tone. Perhaps all of this is slightly abstract to explain, especially when a plot description of the film in question sounds melodramatic on paper, but needless to say, Vidor’s visual style is pretty fantastic. Just as bland shots of two people talking were beginning to become the norm in Hollywood, Vidor was busy filling his films with painterly compositions. It might sound a little extreme, but I don’t think a single shot in the film is a waste; every frame is essential.

Now, the much more difficult part to assess, the melodramatic “tearjerker” aspect of which the film has been categorized as. While I admit, Vidor provides obvious indications of when the tone is shifting, he doesn’t play to the audience’ expectations in the least. Well, at least modern audiences. Today, the ideal ending would be for Andy to win his fight and then triumphantly carry his son on his soldiers. Honestly, there are plenty of signs that it will end in such a way, which makes the ultimately “melodramatic” conclusion all the more abrupt and thus, all the more believable. It is a bit hard to explain in words, but it will make sense when one views the film. Perhaps this saying is used too much to describe films, but it is does indicate that Vidor’s accomplishment is exactly that, an accomplishment.

Advertisements

Actions

Information

11 responses

13 08 2008
gaston monescu

Great review! I couldn’t have said it better myself. A lot of Vidor’s film seem to have cliches in them but he handles them so beautifully that the viewer never notices or gets offended by them. He also doesn’t get credit for having the most graceful camera movements, there are so many tracking shots in this movie but they never get obnoxious or take attention away from the wonderful spark between every relationship. This is such a fantastic movie, It’s very nice to know that you agree.

14 08 2008
Mango

Odd and unexpected review. Which Vidor will you watch next?

15 08 2008
Jake Savage

I actually just watched Our Daily Bread yesterday, but I didn’t like it nearly as much. It was a tad bit hokey, in fact. I think I’ll see either Duel in the Sun or The Wedding Night next.

15 08 2008
Mango

Our Daily Bread is most daring in its socialist theme. There was a lot of talk about socialism during the Depression and a lot of reaction against it. Vidor was a brave man (and surprisingly intellectual) in tackling such a topic.

I can recommend The Wedding Night.

15 08 2008
Jake Savage

I admire Our Daily Bread but that certainly doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s simply just a good film, nothing special like say, The Champ.

16 08 2008
gaston monescu

I just re-watched Our Daily Bread, the first time I saw it was around a year ago and I didn’t like it back then. My tastes were very different back then and I was just attracted to it because I thought I would appreciate the politics. Now I really like it (both for its politics and it’s everything else), but I’m sort of with Jake as in I don’t like it as much as I like some of his other works. I agree with Mango, he was a very brave man and something of a closet intellectual (though he showed it a lot more than other directors of his time, like Ford and Hawks).

17 08 2008
Mango

Hmm… liking or disliking the film says nothing about the film or its impact. Opinion academically cripples many people, and judging Our Daily Bread around opinion deals it (and yourself) an unjust blow. In the late 20s and early 30s, Vidor’s films deeply reflect the society of the time, and Our Daily Bread is a rare American portrait and perhaps a peak of Vidor’s interest in social issues. Though it may not win your heart the way The Champ did, it is perhaps more important historically–certainly more interesting and radical. To be frank (but respectfully so), it is the weight you give to personal opinion that keeps me from really reading this blog.

On KG, there is a Vidor short ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’ (or something like that). It sounds very hefty and throws Vidor in a more radical intellectual school than I had previously thought. Something to look into…

17 08 2008
Jake Savage

Uhm, perhaps you misread my post? I said I admire Our Daily Bread for how brave it was and I acknowledge how relevant it was at the time, but that doesn’t mean I also have to acknowledge it as a really great film. That’s merely my opinion, though. I get what you mean by giving off a sense of “weight” in my opinion and it is somewhat flattering. I don’t intend to think of myself as a egomaniac, but I still want to give off the impression that I really mean what I’m saying.

17 08 2008
Mango

What I mean to say is that your writings are inconsequential because you spend to much time naively justifying petty personal opinion. 😀
There is no dynamite in what you write. And it’s a shame because you write about so many obscure Asian classics to interest me, yet there is nothing in what you say that I can relate to or understand. The more you focus on justifying a film as a good or bad, the less I come away with any feeling for what the film might be like or where I can place it on a theoretical spectrum. Who cares if a film is a masterpiece?

->Too much I harp. I’ll leave you alone. But think about playing around with your writing style and question further why it is you write something.

18 08 2008
Jake Savage

Well, these are my opinions and that is why I continue to write about films so I can better comprehend my taste and other things like that. Really, discussing “reviewing” style is far too abstract to do so in a way that makes sense so I’ll try to make things simple: are you implying that I should be more informative? Because for some of these obscure Japanese films I at least attempt to do so. I admit, my reviews are rather simple with the justification writing style that you just mentioned, but originally I wanted my thoughts to be a launching point for further discussion, but that never quite worked out how I wanted.

Don’t feel like you’re being “hard” on me, you’re criticism (on my criticism) is welcome. I do want my writings to shape a better picture of my cinematic experiences and I suppose my current style isn’t quite doing that. Thanks for the input.

18 08 2008
Mango

Wonderful to hear that you have this outlook on your writing.

“are you implying that I should be more informative?”
What I am trying to get at is: What next? Once you have your opinion formulated and your experiences categorized, ask why it is you had such an opinion and experience, ask what (aesthetically, personally, etc.) triggered your thoughts, ask how these experiences can be categorized among others, ask whatever questions you had never thought to ask before.
Most importantly, continually refine language. Style can reveal more about a state of mind than the content of a statement can. Adjust, experiment.
Bleh…

Just keep writing. And be aware of your continuing evolution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: