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Life of Million Dollar Babies, The
"It's a great fight, it's non-stop punching," says one boxer. "The punches aren't healthy, but you take what is necessary," says another. The sweet science, and leaving it all on the mat. Brutal barbarism, or unpaid women pounding each other in the head for wholly personal reasons? When you're watching The Life Of Million Dollar Babies, ultimately the blood just rushes to your head like it always does.
Documentarian Leyla Liedecker was a sparring partner for Hillary Swank during the making of Million Dollar Baby. With the subject close to her heart, and a connection to the movie, she wisely apes the title for her brief but exhilarating look at eight women vying for the Golden Gloves title in 2005. Women had been participating in amateur boxing for years, but it wasn't until 1993 when a boxer named Dee Hamaguchi took pains to enter the Golden Gloves competition. The storied contest was conceived in Chicago in 1923, and has fostered amateur competitors all the way to the Olympics ever since. The only problem is that boxing is the only Olympic sport that's still exclusive to men. Hamaguchi decided to correct this, enlisting the aid of the ACLU, and finally in 1995, women were able to compete in the Golden Gloves.
We're still waiting on the Olympics.
Nonetheless dozens (hundreds? thousands? more?) women still itch to compete, and Leidecker's documentary takes a quick look inside their world through a combination of interviews, ever-present behind-the-scenes footage from the gym, backstage at the Golden Gloves, and elsewhere. But Leidecker knows that no matter how interesting the stories of these women are, in the end the larger-than-life drama is in the ring, so she doesn't short us on footage of the bouts. Let me tell you, these women can fight. As mentioned above, the fights are non-stop punching. They are shorter bouts than men's boxing, and the women wear helmets, but you'll see nary a woozy, overlong clutch in the center of the ring, just lots of pop! pop! pop! These fights are a powerful engine that makes an already inspirational-by-default story quite compelling - it's hard not to get carried away by a fight.
The neat thing about boxing (especially women's boxing) and this 60-minute documentary is the sense of friendship, camaraderie and shared purpose these athletes have. While there are plenty of those fronting a bit of bravado, before and after the bouts it's all support and commiseration, shared tales of how and why they box, and smiles and hugs after one finishes off the other. Not that there aren't surprised winners and close calls. There's also that subtext - strongly presented - that women shouldn't fight, that their contests are freak-shows, and that the mere fact that they are women fighting makes the whole thing somehow a turn on. These are notions that one featured boxer, Geneve, makes clear in her art show. Not only is she a boxer, she's a teacher and a sculptor. That's the best thing about The Life Of Million Dollar Babies, showing how for these women, fighting is more than just 'a way out of the ghetto,' (as boxing is so often portrayed) it's one aspect of their lives that they look at very carefully. Maybe one day, if women's boxing ever makes it to the Olympics, it will be something even more rich.
The Life Of Million Dollar Babies looks a little rough around the edges, which is certainly befitting the subject. Presented in 1.33:1 ratio, the picture isn't terribly sharp or detailed, and colors are not tremendously vibrant, rich or deep. The mastering job looks to be done on a budget, but compression artifacts aren't profuse or distracting. Obviously this isn't a reference quality presentation, but that lack doesn't do anything to distract from its enjoyable qualities.
Stereo Audio is, like video presentation, nothing to shout about, but is perfectly adequate, with dialog clear and audible, while shouts from the crowd convey the thrill of the fight.
20 minutes of Deleted Scenes bring this DVD up to almost feature-length - my count says 76 minutes total with the deleted scenes, while the box says 73, and I'll never understand who, how or why they come up with those numbers for the box. The scenes are divided unevenly between 4 fighters, with some information given in the feature expounded upon, and many other tidbits added. A Stills Gallery rounds out the package.
I'm kind of a sucker for documentaries, and this subject is a gimme. How can you argue with the inspiration to be had watching women who have lots to lose and not much of extrinsic value to gain as they struggle to be strong fighters? Leidecker's documentary neither sentimentalizes nor sensationalizes her subject. Like her pugilists, she simply knocks it out and leaves it on the floor. Those who truly follow this branch of the sport will find the DVD recommended, while your average viewer looking for something different and inspiring should take heed of my hearty recommendation to Rent It.