Bruce Weber is an America photographer known for a long string of commercial photographs used prominently in various Calvin Klein, Vogue, GQ, Ralph Lauren, Rolling Stone and Revlon advertisement campaigns. Your typical Weber photo has homo erotic overtones, features nude, perfectly chiselled men, fawns over Adonis-like bodies, often has a distinctly 1950s sense of style (James Dean haircuts, tight blue jeans etc), is in black-and-white (or muted grey tones) and sports a crypto-fascist aesthetic reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl's "The Last of the Nuba". He essentially creates slightly gay, overly poeticized, idealised male bodies. The big corporations love him. Look long enough at any of his photos, though, and the vacuity of Weber's prettified imagery starts to make you sick.
Weber's style works extremely well for "Broken Noses", though, a documentary he filmed in 1987. The film revolves around Andy Minsker, an Amateur Boxing Federation champion who defeated British Commonwealth and Yugoslavian champs with first-round knockouts. By the time his career ended, Minsker had fought 344 matches and never been knocked out.
Much of Weber's film is obsessed with topless boxers, near naked male bodies, artfully black-and-white shots of children, boys, men, muscles and physiques. The film goes beyond simple homo-eroticism, though, and captures a sense of male awkwardness, naivety, vulnerability, innocence, even stupidity. What Weber unwittingly does is demasculinize, feminize and neuter what is usually thought of as a hard, masculine, aggressive and testosterone soaked sport. His images capture, with some pathos, confused and near robotic humans; simple kids, not budding warriors, awkward boys, not violent fighters, fragile people, not dangerous combatants. And of course in Andy Minsker Weber finds a largely kind, caring and polite young man, not some volatile, brutal boxer. Weber's aesthetic, and the material he teases out, scrambles all our preconceptions, seems to systematically undermine all your typical boxing clichés.
A large part of the film focuses on Andy Minsker's family. It is learnt that Andy's father, Hugh, had been an Olympic alternate in 1954. Andy and Hugh share some conversations, and what emerges is a tale of disappointment and regret, both father and son struggling to conceal various grudges, money problems and shared career disappointments. Both "could have been contenders", Andy could have been a millionaire had the cards fallen right...but things, of course, rarely go as planned. It's a lament typical of the boxing circuit.
The rest of the film explores Andy's role as a local boxing coach, and features relaxed interviews with various family members. The film's last words are, to paraphrase, "I'll never forget you", which is the chief feeling viewers of the film will be left with. Andy's an infectious guy with a fascinating mix of traits.
8.9/10 – Worth one viewing.
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