Posted in Events, Fighters & Writers, tagged Advance, Amy Adrion, Berry Gordy, Booker T. & the MGs, Boxing, Craig Fahle, David Marshall Silverman, Detroit, Fighters & Writers, Freedom Riders, Git Along, Hammer of Tor, Hitsville USA, I Am a Man, Imperfect Armor, Isaac Hayes, Kate Lain, Little Dogies, Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King, Marvin Gaye, Memphis, Mitchell Rose, Motown, National Civil Rights Museum, No Neutral Corner, Otis Redding, Pony Rides Are for Girls, Shoegazer, Smokey Robinson, Snake Fever, Staple Singers, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Records, Stevie Wonder, Sun Studio, Supremes, Temptations, Thomas Hauser, Tor Hamer, Traffic Jam, Washington DC, WDET, Wendy Greene on October 31, 2010 |
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October ended with a burst of activity involving multiple projects. Imperfect Armor screened at the 13th annual Indie Memphis film festival on the 23rd along with some wonderful short films like Mitchell Rose’s Advance, Kate Lain’s Git Along, Little Dogies and Amy Adrion’s Shoegazer. (Other festival highlights included Wendy Greene’s short documentary Snake Fever and David Marshall Silverman’s hilarious Pony Rides Are for Girls.)
In addition to screenings and festivities, we took in a bit of the city. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel provides a powerful reminder of how the color line scarred the United States. In 2009, Indie Memphis screened I Am a Man, a documentary about the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to the city where he was assassinated. This year, it showed Freedom Riders, a film about front-line fighters against racial segregation – the kind of bold Americans the NCRM vividly commemorates.
Of course Memphis’s historical contributions also include some of the greatest music of all time. Though the actual studio where Booker T. & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers and many other brilliant musicians made records, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music recreates and celebrates the place where it once stood at the corner of McLemore Avenue and College Street.
In some ways, Memphis reminded me of Detroit, our next stop. And there are some meaningful connections. As the tour guide at Hitsville USA (as the Motown Historical Museum is commonly known) mentioned, King first delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech not in Washington DC but in Detroit, where Berry Gordy’s company made a recording of it. Motown is better known for having recorded artists such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder. Though Stax Records and Motown used different methods, they both achieved musical magic. Somehow, even though I grew up in Detroit, I’d never visited the building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, but I corrected that oversight on this trip.
- With Craig Fahle at the WDET studio
The real reason for the excursion to my hometown was not to extend our tour of recording studios. (On our 2009 trip to Memphis, we went to Sun Studio.) Instead, it was to read from Fighters & Writers, which I did at the Traffic Jam on the 29th. I also appeared on The Craig Fahle Show on WDET 101.9 FM.
The musical theme was not the only unifier of our two-city trip. Indie Memphis showed two short films about heavyweight Tor Hamer. One of them (Hammer of Tor) ends with the boxer being asked a question by Thomas Hauser, an author I interviewed for the documentary No Neutral Corner and write about in Fighters & Writers.
With my sister, Laura, at a book-signing in Detroit
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Nancy and I were interviewed about No Neutral Corner after its screening at the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival:
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Posted in Events, Fighters & Writers, tagged All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival, Boxing, Brooklyn, Documentary films, Fecarbox, Federacion Centroamericana de Boxeo Profesional, Fighters & Writers, Film festivals, Gleason’s Gym, Hector Roca, Hollywood, Israel, Mary Pickford Theater, Merhav Mohar, My Champion, No Neutral Corner, Raleigh Studios, Welterweight champion, World Boxing Council, Xavier Tolliver on July 22, 2010 |
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Although I hadn’t met Merhav Mohar before I briefly spoke with him in Hollywood on June 10, he and I spent some time among the same people in a place on the opposite side of the country several years earlier.
We were both in the Mary Pickford Theater at Raleigh Studios for the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival, which featured the documentaries My Champion, which chronicles Merhav’s short career as a professional boxer, and No Neutral Corner, an examination of issues such as the sport’s health and safety risks and the proliferation of sanctioning bodies and titles. .
Merhav stopped fighting as a result of brain hemorrhaging caused by blows to his head. His last fight was in 2005 against Xavier Tolliver for a then-vacant title bestowed by the World Boxing Council’s Central American offshoot – the Federacion Centroamericana de Boxeo Profesional or Fecarbox. Before that bout and a few others in the United States, the Israeli welterweight trained with Hector Roca at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Portions of No Neutral Corner were filmed there from 2002 to 2004, and Roca was interviewed for it. It’s possible that Mohar was working out at the gym at the same time that No Neutral Corner was in the works. When he saw a postcard for Fighters & Writers, a collection of essays that owe something to the time I spent working on film, Mohar immediately recognized the spot where the cover photo was taken.
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Posted in Events, tagged Al Bernstein, America on the Ropes, Andre Ward, Bethel African American Cultural Center, Boxing, Demetrice Dalton, Ed Shepherd, Fighters & Writers, Four Kings, Fourth of July, Gary Wurst, George Kimball, Geralda Miller, Guy Rocha, Heavyweight champion, Independence Day, Jack Johnson, Jim Jeffries, Joan Elam, Kenny Bayless, Linda Haywood, Nevada, No Neutral Corner, Our Story Inc., Reno, Reno Gazette-Journal, Rich Marotta, Super middleweight champion, Tim Elam, Unforgivable Blackness, Virginia City, Wayne Rozen on July 6, 2010 |
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It was quite an honor to be a part of the Johnson-Jeffries Centennial Celebration in Reno, Nevada, where boxers, commentators, writers, fight fans and descendants of Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries, among others, congregated to look back at the “Fight of the Century” and its impact on American culture.
With Al Bernstein at the Johnson-Jeffries Centennial Gala
A century before, Jeffries’s corner men rebuffed heavyweight champion Johnson when he sought to shake his vanquished opponent’s hand, but the fighters’ relatives happily embraced at the gala emceed by announcers Al Bernstein and Rich Marotta at the Grand Sierra Resort on Friday, July 2. Wayne Rozen, author of America on the Ropes: A Pictorial History of the Johnson-Jeffries Fight (who also wrote about the fight’s anniversary for the New York Times), gave a great multimedia presentation. Super middleweight champion Andre Ward and referee Kenny Bayless were among those gathered in the Grand Theatre, where bouts were held the following night.
With Andre Ward at the Grand Sierra Resort
The good people at Our Story Inc. organized events for Independence Day weekend and throughout the month of July. I delivered a talk called “Jack Johnson’s Fourth of July” at the Bethel African American Cultural Center on July 3, after which I signed copies of Fighters & Writers. George Kimball, author of Four Kings, also spoke. The organization has scheduled screenings of the documentaries Unforgivable Blackness and No Neutral Corner as well as exhibits of archival photographs, boxing memorabilia and paintings by Demetrice Dalton, Ed Shepherd and other artists.
Delivering "Jack Johnson's Fourth of July" in Reno
Approximately one hundred people stood under the high desert sun on the Fourth to witness a ceremonial bell ringing at the original fight site on the corner of Fourth Street and Toano, after which a party was held at the spot where Johnson trained and where Tim and Joan Elam now tend an enchanting garden.
Linda Haywood (great granddaughter of Jack Johnson's sister) and Gary Wurst (great-great nephew of Jim Jeffries) at the site of the 1910 fight
Plaque marking the site where Jack Johnson trained in Reno
For my wife and me, the weekend wasn’t only about boxing. It also included an excursion with Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Geralda Miller to Virginia City, where historian Guy Rocha showed us the sights and we watched the Independence Day parade.
With Geralda Miller and Guy Rocha in Virginia City, Nevada
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Posted in Events, tagged All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival, Boxing, Boxing documentary, Heavyweight champion, John McCain, Larry Holmes, Max Kellerman, No Neutral Corner, Raleigh Studios, Rodwan Productions, Steve Farhood, Teddy Atlas, Thomas Hauser on June 18, 2010 |
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No Neutral Corner – a documentary my wife and I made about the business of boxing – has been accepted into the 2010 All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival.
Professional boxing is a job, and the movie looks at the sport as a form of work. The problems plaguing boxing are legion. They range from the obvious (and not-so-obvious) health hazards to corruption and organizational chaos. But there’s little agreement on how to solve them (hence the title No Neutral Corner). At the same time, however, there are several ongoing efforts to improve the situation. The documentary doesn’t dwell only on the negatives. Numerous people in the boxing world – including current and former professional boxers, writers and broadcasters, lawmakers and doctors – have faced the challenges of reforming the sport. (Essays in Fighters & Writers to varying degrees grew out of research I conducted while working on the movie.)
Over the course of 13 “rounds” (corresponding to the 12 rounds of a championship bout, plus one “round” about life after boxing), No Neutral Corner explores various moves to improve boxers’ working conditions. Shot in New York, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC, the documentary features footage from professional boxing matches, boxing gyms, and a weigh-in preceding a major championship bout as well as from interviews with dozens of well-know individuals, including former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, U.S. Senator John McCain, on-air boxing analysts and commentators Steve Farhood, Teddy Atlas and Max Kellerman, and writer Thomas Hauser.
The All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival promotes the art of filmmaking in the world of sports and competition. Its jury and judges include people from both the film and sporting industries. The festival’s selected documentaries, feature films and shorts will be screened at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood on July 10 and 11.
No Neutral Corner, a Rodwan Productions film, also won the Las Vegas Film Festival’s Silver Ace Award.
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