CFS: Huston’s “Fat City”

Matilda Swartz

As movies go, there is often a stigma associated with the sports genre.

Less than halfway through the story of a high school football team with a losing record, a baseball clubhouse facing their biggest rival in hopes of a championship, or a boxer from South Philly putting his heart in the ring, any audience member knows that victory is minutes away.

While in many ways a movie about the boxing world, John Huston’s 1972 film “Fat City” strays far from the cheery trajectory of the genre.

Based on the novel of the same name by Leonard Gardner, “Fat City” is set in the arid, lackluster community of Stockton, Calif. – a short distance but far cry from the lively San Francisco. Though not a film with an intricate unfolding of events, it does provide insightful views into the thorny lives of three varied Stockton natives.

The story’s protagonist, Bill Tully, is a washed-up boxer simultaneously coping with turning 30 and attempting to procure a comeback in the ring. Tully soon encounters the young and impressionable Ernie (an early role for Jeff Bridges), whom he blindly advises to pursue the thrill of the fight. Oma is the final fraction of the “Fat City” trifecta, Tully’s female counterpart in BAC level and desperation.

The movie follows Ernie’s B-list career in and out of the ring, namely the trials and tribulations of growing into adulthood. All the while Tully, who has already lived through each of Ernie’s novice missteps, strives to relive a heyday he never achieved in the first round.

The surrounding players, from the gym trainers to fight promoters to dive lushes, all magnify the sad commonality among the locals: how hopeful dreams of “making it big” all too often clash with the ease of settling for mediocrity.

While not having been a heavyweight in the box office upon initial opening, “Fat City” is unquestionably a gem in director Huston’s career.

Huston, who had a boxing career of his own, delivers an honest and gritty look into the reality of professional fighting.

The Pay Per View, beer company-sponsored bouts that often cloud the public’s eye are the exception, Tully and Ernie’s stories are the rule.

“Fat City,” the ninth movie in the Fall Cultural Film & Lecture Series “Hidden Treasures,” will be shown four times in the Connelly Cinema: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 22 at 3:30 and 7 p.m.; and Monday, Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. Monday night’s showing will be followed by a talk with film aficionados Dan Jefferson and Susan Marcosson.

As per usual, admission is free for all students with WildCard and $5 for all others.