Like my previous post, Fat City is the penultimate film that I need to see from one of the more prolific directors to feature on the list. I had seen most of his entries prior to starting the blog – including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre which is my favourite John Huston film – which left me with three to blog about. Now that I have only The Asphalt Jungle left, to be watched as part of a final batch, it’s just making that finish line feel all the closer.
If I was on a gameshow and I had to name as many John Huston films as possible, I don’t think I would have been able to name Fat City. As the film that helped him out of his 1960s slump, got an Academy Award nomination and even showed at festivals – it feels like this has really slumped into the background. Was it because this is a sports film that came a decade before Hollywood became obsessed with telling stories based in various national past times? More likely, it’s because this is a story about failure.
To make no bones about it, Fat City is a depressing film. So often we are fed stories about sports glory like Bull Durham and Breaking Away as people tend to like to be uplifted by this genre. However, the reality is the many people with the talent that don’t quite make and whose lives are wrecked by the psychological or financial toll. That their dream of the good life (the ‘fat city’ of the title) is never reached. This is the story this film tells.
After a chance meeting, a down-and-out boxer convinces a young man (a good looking young Jeff Bridges) that he would make for a great boxer. Whilst there is promise, this is a cursed meeting as he starts training, doesn’t take precautions to the point of having a shotgun wedding and just coast along somewhat stuck in a world that he cannot get out of… and he isn’t even twenty yet.
The character I’ll remember most from this, however, is neither of the boxers but the tragic alcoholic Oma. She is overly dramatic about everything as a counter-weight to a life that never amounted to much. It’s hard to know what she wants or needs – other than a lot of help even when she says she doesn’t need it. It is such a hard performance to watch at times, but it is extraordinarily done.
This is not going to end up being my top John Huston film, but considering his output there is a lot of choice available. It is however one to think on and one where I am glad that we didn’t fall into any of the cliched traps that annoys me about a lot of sports films.