Monday, 26 April 2021

Fat City (1972, dir. John Huston)

I watched Fat City last night courtesy of my old US DVD from 2002, whose tired looking transfer seemed to add to the film's grimy ambience. I'm tempted to call John Huston's film a classic of skid row poetry; it's certainly a classic, but even Tom Waits would find it hard to mine much poetry from this one, as the fate of two boxers is played out among the broken down streets, derelict lots, one-night cheap hotels and last-chance saloons of Stockton, California. I'd wager that screenwriter Robert Siegel had the film in mind when he wrote what would become Darren Aronofsky's 2008 film The Wrestler and perhaps Steve Buscemi's took some inspiration from Huston's film for his 1996 film Trees LoungeFat City is one of two late-career John Huston masterpieces, the other being 1979's Wiseblood, and the film is good enough to cash in my barebones DVD for Indicator's 2017 Blu-Ray which comes with a bounty of fascinating supplements, including a commentary track from film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, which for once I will put aside an hour and a half to listen to. All that to come, but for now, I indulged in a spot of armchair tourism earlier courtesy of Google Earth, seeking out locations seen in the film. My copy of the usually reliable The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations has no entry on the film, and perhaps that's not surprising: much of the area where Conrad Hall shot those bleached-white streets and dimly-lit bars no longer exists, having been torn down after the filming was completed to make way for a highway. Outside of the film, I hadn't any previous knowledge of Stockton, but passing thru parts of the city and neighborhoods on Google Earth, very little has been done to rid the region of the blight of urban decay, with poor housing planning, poverty, drugs, and neighborhoods lost to gang violence. It's no wonder Stockton is one of California's most undesirable places to live.

Fat City (1972, dir. John Huston)

If the film gains immeasurably from the shooting locations, so too is the film well served by the terrific cast, a mix of well known actors - Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Candy Clarke, and non-professionals who were not so removed from the film's milieu, and I was especially fond of Curtis Cokes, a former World Welterweight Champion and trainer who plays the soft-spoken Earl with a tremendous dignity, even when fending off his erratic alcoholic lady. There's a great turn too from Art Aragon, another former boxer who plays the assistant coach. Good as Stacy Keach and a young Jeff Bridges are, Susan Tyrrell runs away with the film, playing Oma, an irascible, impetuous alcoholic. It's a shame she had such a patchy film career, but among the more forgettable fare she acted in, there were noteworthy pictures like Andy Warhol's Bad, Forbidden Zone, Tales of Ordinary Madness, Flesh + Blood, and Cry-Baby, plus voice work for two of Ralph Bakshi's animations Wizards and Fire & Ice, plus narration for the Dawn of the Dead documentary Document of the Dead.

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