Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Requiem for a Heavyweight

One of the joys of using the Netflix DVD rental service is the vast library of titles to choose from. Many years ago as a boy, I caught part of a film on TV that stuck in my head and never saw it again. Wandering around the Net, I found a reference to a 1956 Rod Serling teleplay that was remade into a 1962 movie, Requiem for a Heavyweight. A lightbulb clicked on above my head and I knew that was the film I'd seen, the images of Jackie Gleason being chased around a ring and worked over being what had made an impression. So I put it in my queue and eventually got to see it in its entirety a few weeks ago.

Now I understand why the film haunted me so much, it is a film that remains with you for days afterward and one that dares to be something very un-Hollywood. The story starts with the brutal loss of a match by Mountain Rivera to a young Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali's original name) and the sobering news that he can't fight again or he'll go blind. The aforementioned Gleason plays the best performance of his career as Mountain's mangaer, Maish. Maish is a reprehensible person and has gotten himself in trouble with a female gangster, Ma Greeny, owing a considerable sum of money.

What follows is a wonderful character study in B&W and is a truly adult film. By that, I mean that it follows the very realistic consequences of the actions of flawed adults in a tough world. There are scenes in this film that will make you cringe, as you come to care for the obviously brain damaged boxer. The budding romance with a social worker played by Julie Harris leads to some sweet moments, but also the ones that make you cringe the most. Mountain is trying to make a new life while maintaining his sense of honor and dignity, but is acutely aware of his shortcomings. The scheming of Maish interferes and eventually leads to an ending I don't think I'll ever forget.

People think fondly of Rod Serling due to the immense success of the Twilight Zone television series, but few realize what a brilliant writer he was. The human condition and authentic characters were always hallmarks of the series and Requiem for a Heavyweight was his best work. No fantasy, no science fiction, but a realistic look at people operating at the lower end of society. This is an older film that modern directors and writers should be studying.

Highly recommended to adults, children won’t understand it and may find some of it disturbing.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Thomas S. Monson New Head of the Latter-day Saints

Today it was announced that Thomas S. Monson is the new president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This came as no surprise, as the tradition of the longest serving apostle being selected meant that he was next in line. What was interesting to me wasn't that Henry B. Eyering was chosen to be 1st Counselor, but that Dieter F. Uchtdorf was named 2nd Counselor. Though one really shouldn't play favorites by choosing a favorite amongst the Quorum of the Twelve, I took a shine to him as soon as he was made an apostle and always look forward to his talks. So I was very happy to see him be brought into the First Presidency of the Church and brought a smile to my face.

While President Hinckley will be missed, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints goes on as does the work. I had no worries or qualms about the succession, for I knew the Church was in good hands. Tension about leadership changes may be good for politics, but it isn't good for religious organizations and once again our system has shown itself to be inspired.