Although his new movie is a biopic of the former prize fighter Vinny Pazienza, if you were to call Bleed for This a mere boxing film, the filmmaker Ben Younger might cuff you one. “To me, it’s a family drama,” he explains.
The Globe and Mail spoke with the American director (who was in a pugnacious mood) about a comeback story, a bawling tough guy and a film for a divided nation.
There are many reasons why filmmakers are drawn to boxing stories, but did you ever ask yourself, “Do we need another fight film?”
No, because I didn’t make a boxing movie. This isn’t The Fighter or Raging Bull. This is a comeback story.
If Vinny Paz was a crossing guard, I still would have made this movie. It’s about the car accident and the resulting comeback. It’s about being so passionate about something that you would risk paralysis in order to continue doing it.
Inevitably it will get grouped with past boxing movies, though, don’t you think?
If you were to force me to compare it to another boxing movie, I still think we’re better than any boxing movies that have come out in the last two years. By a long shot.
The last Rocky film, Creed, was pretty good, wasn’t it?
I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I said I think I made a better movie.
It’s definitely a better film than Southpaw, I’ll say that.
Southpaw was unwatchable.
The film is about Vinny Paz, or as he was known when he was fighting, Vinny Pazienza. Does he like the film?
He’s a huge fan of the film. He’s travelling with us. I showed it to him a year ago, and he cried openly. He held my hand, even. It was a huge emotional experience for him to watch his life story being told.
What scenes did he react to?
Not the ones you would expect. It wasn’t the car crash or the big win. It was the small familial moments: His father bathing him or his mother sitting in the shrine she created for him. He was shocked at how accurately we created his family life.
I was particularly impressed with the sound editing in the fight sequences. Can you talk about that?
We had one day to shoot each of the fight scenes, which is outrageous. We barely got it done. Because of that, we really didn’t have the footage to carry us through. So, to make up for it, we were able to pull out the sound, for example, to hear just those five punches, without anything else. If we had more time and more money, we could have had more elaborate fight scenes.
You pulled it off well, but is there a danger in relying on those kind of techniques too much? Can it seem gimmicky?
It can go wrong, you’re right. But our editing room was very open. The best idea wins. You try not to be too precious with the idea you had.
What about the look of the film? It reminded me of the way American Hustle looked.
I’m a fan of [director] David O. Russell. But as far as the actual look, my director of photography, Larkin Seiple, did not reference any of his movies for this. Larkin hadn’t shot a feature before this one, though he has since.
But he’s done a million commercials. He’s the master of light. We looked more at someone like at Gordon Willis, who shot Annie Hall. We studied the films of the 1970s, when lighting was a little more risqué.
This is off topic, but you’re a New Yorker who worked in politics and once ran a political campaign. What are your thoughts on Trump and the presidential race?
I think the methods were horrible on both sides. Trump more so. But he was democratically elected. It points to a real division in the country. It needs to be remedied.
And, to get back to our movie, I think Bleed for This can help in some way. I didn’t set out to make an inspirational movie – I set out to tell a true story. Which I did. And the reactions we’re getting from people are exceptional. I feel like everyone is a little thrown right now. And I hope this movie can give them a reprieve, without having to go to Harry Potter.
Bleed for This opens Nov. 18.Report Typo/Error