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The induction method

Posted by Mark Feeney  December 8, 2010 07:22 PM

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(One guess who'd end up on the canvas if Robert DeNiro's Jake LaMotta, left, took on Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa. It wouldn't be the middleweight, that's for sure.)

So what is it about sports halls of fame? This week has been one for the books. Or blogs. And not in a good way.

First, the baseball hall once again makes a joke of itself by failing to induct Marvin Miller -- only the most important figure in professional baseball in the 20th century not named Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson. Then it's a case of who did get inducted over at the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum. You did know there was such a thing, right? It's in Canastota, N.Y. -- only 50 miles away, from the baseball one, in Cooperstown. Among the 12 inductees  were two with movie connections. One was Mike Tyson. Nothing surprising there. He had a fairly notable ring career before "The Hangover" came along. And there was Sylvester Stallone, honored for creating  Rocky Balboa.

In fairness, that makes more sense than it might sound. Stallone is going into the hall's Observers section, which includes writers, broadcasters, and such. A.J.  Liebling's in there, for example. His sentences in "Ahab and Nemesis" make the punches Rocky and Apollo Creed throw at each other look like love taps. So, okay, there's logic behind putting Stallone in the boxing  hall -- except for one thing. He's the only movie person in there -- the only one -- and that's nuts. Do you know how many boxing pictures there have been? "The Fighter" is only the latest in a very long line. And comparing the "Rocky" series to a lot of those pictures is like comparing the Three Stooges (the Joe Three Stooges!) to the Marx Brothers.

Forget "Million Dollar Baby." Think of "Raging Bull." "Champion." "The Set-Up." "Body and Soul," "Requiem for a Heavyweight," "Fat City," "The Harder They Fall" (Bogart's last movie), "Gentleman Jim." set_up.jpgEven Elvis made a boxing picture, "Kid Galahad."

So why has the sweet science been an exception in Hollywood's long history of not getting sports right. Well, for starters, boxing offers lots of action. That's obvious. Much of the action is extremely violent -- and we all know about the movies and violence. "Kiss kiss pow pow" improves on "kiss kiss bang bang." Even better, the action is confined. Confinement means phenomenal spatial tension. Think of the screen as a boxing ring minus a dimension and turned on its side. Confinement also not only invites but requires lots and lots of closeups and two-shots, which are to filmic storytelling what lighter fluid is to charcoal briquets. Faces are visible (as they're not with football), hence all those closeups. Also visible is most of the rest of the body. Don't underestimate the beefcake factor. There's a colorful milieu, more than a whiff of crime, and no need for elaborate location shooting. (Of course there's elaborate, and then there's elaborate. Think of Michael Chapman holding lit candles underneath the camera lens when he shot "Raging Bull" or, as shown below, James Wong Howe shooting the "Body and Soul" fight scenes on roller skates with a hand-held camera.)

So, okay, there's nothing wrong with Stallone being in the boxing hall. Sure, why not. Fine. But how come Scorsese, say, isn't in there for "Raging Bull"? It's quantity over quality. Call it the roman-numeral factor. Hearing about Stallone's elevation, Ty said, "If there'd been 'Raging Bull I-VI. . . . ." Ha! Just right. Some people, I guess, just prefer 15 rounds of rope-a-dope (and I do mean dope) to a first-round knockout.

Body and Soul Wong Howe.jpg


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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

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Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

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