Courses / Undergraduate
R1B - 004 | CCN: 15150
The Craft of Writing - Boxing Films
Eliot Bessette and Fareed Ben-Youssef
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Robert De Niro's weight gain, "Eye of the Tiger": boxing films have a knack for culturally enshrining and transforming their content. The artists drawn to boxing films read like a Who’s Who of American cinema: directors spanning Buster Keaton and Alfred Hitchcock to Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, and performers ranging from Charlie Chaplin and Paul Newman to Denzel Washington and Will Smith. Although in the last twenty years boxing has ceded popularity and media attention to mixed martial arts, it remains a pervasive part of American cultural discourse and film production. We will explore what makes boxing so enduringly cinematic.
This course, which surveys a number of great films about “the sweet science,” has two chief objectives. First, we will investigate the narrative patterns, audiovisual styles, and themes (including corruption, perseverance, anger, and patriotism) in fictional boxing films, and we will consider how closely they hang together as a genre. Second, we will use these selections as an introduction to film studies, as they intersect with a number of pivotal topics in the discipline. Boxing films often draw on real life stories and question what can be faked and what cannot; they are implicated in the birth of the medium and early censorship debates; and their relentless analysis of physicality and violence invites theories of cinematic “body genres” and spectatorial embodiment.
We will give special attention to the figures of Muhammad Ali, who became a national figure far in excess of his boxing career, and Sylvester Stallone, who despite never boxing professionally became indelibly linked to his on-screen persona Rocky Balboa. We will view works across film history from Boxing Cats (1894) to Creed (2015). We will examine the cultural significance of actual boxing matches in documentaries like When We Were Kings (1996) and through excerpts of bouts featuring Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Mike Tyson, and others. To situate our films intellectually, we will read broad and variegated offerings, including film history, genre theory, philosophy, and literary boxing prose. Additionally, we hope to take a field trip to a local boxing event to witness the sport live.
This course fulfills the second part of the Reading and Composition requirement. Students will further develop the skills of audiovisual analysis of films and close reading of written texts from the R1A level. They will also learn how to locate, evaluate, and properly cite theoretical and historical sources to support their own original and compelling arguments in several research papers.