Friday, May 11, 2007

Film Review: Blue Blood

Stevan Riley's Blue Blood is getting its cinema release from Warner UK today. A festival favourite in recent months, this docu-film is a fly-on-the-wall look at the annual Oxford vs. Cambridge Varsity Boxing Match. I had a chance to watch the film and meet the producer back in January along with a few of the film's cast at our local indie-friendly cinema.

Blue Blood is at heart a character study tracing the progress of a number of aspiring first-time Oxford University boxers as they train, spar, are whittled down to the final team and then face off against their Cambridge nemeses in the big fight finale. There's a wide, though not contrived, range of fighters on view, all the way from posh fine art major Charlie (middleweight) to Fred, a working-class kid from Bristol struggling to train hard and pass his biochemistry exams (lightweight).

Everyone's more than a little raw at first and it looks like it would be so easy to drop out of the punishing grind we see them wilfully endure to prove themselves to Des, their tough but proud coach. Heavyweight Boiler is shown being pummelled in his first fight, leaving him rather humiliated but determined to press on. His reward: making the team. Across the board, the tenacity and determination on display is honestly inspiring. Not every one on the team is naturally talented, but they do all grow, and often more than even they expected.

Post-fight moments include telling scenes of the boxers being fitted for their Blues. Seeing themselves in the garb of the elite, knowing how far they've come and what they've accomplished, the fact that their cool factor has gone through the roof isn't lost on these guys, especially where girls are concerned.

In spite of this description, I can promise you that Blue Blood's fights aren't a celebration of brutishness. They're stepping stones to a triumph of courage over adversity with each bout deftly edited to a well-chosen soundtrack to bring out each fighter's personality and unique way of moving in the ring.

Three years down the line and a win against Cambridge under the team's belt, this past March marked the 100th Oxford vs. Cambridge Varsity Boxing Match. It almost makes me wish I were a student again. I wish I could've been there.

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