Monday, January 30, 2012

Don't Take A Hollywood Bio Pic As Gospel...

 Max Baer was The Heavyweight champion of the world from 1934-1935. He would lose the title to a Journeyman fighter named James Braddock in a fight that would be inspire a movie in 2005 called Cinderella Man and still remain part of boxing lore. Baer never bothered to take Boxing, nor much of anything else for that matter, seriously and as such most boxing historians regard him as supremely talented but his career as ultimately disappointing. Two movies made nearly 50 years apart would cloud the true nature of his character and spawn much controversy.

I hate to take a break from Rev. Sam. to ask a question. Do people really take hollywood Bio-picture that seriously? In 2005 Ron Howard made a bio pic of the Boxer James J. Braddock's life called Cinderella Man. I was one of about 1 of 10 people who actually saw the film in the theater and thought it was excellent. However it was not without controversy. The movie depicts Max Baer Sr, whom Braddock won the heavyweight title off of, as a mean thoughtless blood thirsty savage. This portrayal greatly upset the Baer family. Mainly Max "Jethro Bodine" Baer Jr. Whom threatened a law suit. In truth Baer Sr. Was a fun loving, good guy whom lost to Braddock, and other fights he should have won, not because he was a blood thirsty savage but he because was in fact the opposite. Baer Sr. was a good time guy who would rather laugh, drink and "grab a broad" instead of train for a fight. His famous quote after losing the title to Braddock "He needed it more than I did. he's got 3 kids I don't know how many I've got." gives us much insight to Baer Sr's true personality really was. Also upsetting however to the Baer family was the Portrayal of Baer's attitude about killing a man in the ring. (which happened) In the movie Baer again is portrayed as a blood thirsty savage reveling in the death. In truth the incident bothered Baer until he own death at the relatively young age at 50 and may have contributed in Baer's seemingly nonchalant attitude towards his own fight career.

If the only movie we had to base Baer's true personality and character off of was Cinderella Man maybe the family would have more of a point about the false portrayal. However it is not. There was another movie thinly based on the life of another boxer named Primo Carnera made in 1957 called The Harder They Fall. Unlike Cinderella Man which flopped, The Harder They Fall was and is still one of the most popular "fight pictures" of all time. The film would be Humphery Bogart's last was an expose of the way fighters are exploited by criminals in the fight game. It was Carnera whom Baer would beat for the title. And who would play the character Buddy Branned whom was clearly based on Max Baer? Max Baer! That's right. Baer played the role of a boxer based on himself whom was every bit mean, blood thirsty, and rotten, not to mention also reveling in the fact he killed a man, as his character would be in Cinderella Man. And he had to have known that the role he was playing was based to be himself.

So even before Ron Howard took the life story of James Braddock and embellished many aspect of the story including the true personality of Max Baer Sr, to make a better movie, Baer playing himself did the very same thing some 50 years earlier. In fact you could make a very good argument that The Harder They Fall showing Baer acting in such a fashion did more to harm the legacy of the man than Cinderella Man did where Baer's character was embellished to make Braddock's achievement look that much more impressive. Would Cinderella Man have the same emotional ending if the film had shown Braddock beating a fat out of shape Baer who spent the fight clowning as was the truth instead of making it look as if Braddock beat some unbeatable brute against all odds?

I say all of this to ask this question. Should people or their families really get that upset over their portrayal in a Hollywood film? The way I look at is most people, if they have any smarts at all, are going to know to take what they see on the screen with a grain of salt no matter how truthful a biopic purports to be. All movies, even ones based on the truth are going to at least 30% fiction. They have to be or they would never have hold your attention.. Baer certainly didn't seemed to mind taking money to play himself as in such a fashion Why did his family have such an issue when Craig Bierko did? My own personal answer as somebody who liked both Cinderella Man and The Harder They Fall is I'm smart enough to know that both Baer and Bierko were making an Hollywood version of a real event. Based on truth but was embellished to tell a story. Others watching these films and other bio pictures like them are also smart enough to take what they see on the screen as face value. And if they are not that says more about themselves and their own intelligence than it says about the people being portrayed.

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