A Window In Time. Tunney-Dempsey 1927, audience film.
Gene Tunney vs Jack Dempsey II
World Heavyweight Championship
Chicago, September 22, 1927
16mm Black and White Audience Film
**This film is currently being archived, and will be shown pending licensing.
I’ve written about the second Tunney-Dempsey
fight on this blog before, showing the “Long Count” in real time. The Long Count is one of the most famous
moments in boxing history, and the fight was well documented by a commercial
film crew. However, among the 104,943
people attending the fight, was a fan with a 16mm camera.
Amateur films taken at fights are not unheard
of, but rarely seen. In the days before
video, 8mm and 16mm home movies were family keepsakes, almost never copied or
distributed. Three examples of audience
movies that have come to light include the ringside film of the LaMotta-Cerdan
fight (16mm film shot by a fan) as well as 8mm audience films of Graziano-Zale
II and Marciano-Vingo. In those cases,
the home movies were the only film documentations of the fight.
The average person owning a movie camera was
extremely rare in 1927, let alone successfully filming a night time sporting
event. 16mm had been introduced by Kodak
four years earlier in 1923. 8mm would
not be on the market until 1932. Kodak
produced 16mm stock on safety film, and not nitrate, which helped this footage
survive decades of storage. Judging from
the frame rate, the camera had a spring driven motor, running the shutter at approximately
16-20fps. The film is well
preserved. It has dried somewhat over
the years, making it stiff, but not inflexible.
There’s also some shrinkage and emulsion stains, but otherwise the film
is remarkably clean and free of scratches.
The film speed is unknown, but was likely low (perhaps 100 ASA) and was
reversal film stock. Meaning, this is
not a print, but the actual film that was in the camera at the fight.
The stadium scene is very dark, but the
exposure setting was in range for the brightly lit boxing ring. The fighters, the referee and overhead lights
are clearly visible. The first minute of the movie contains footage shot in the
early evening outside the stadium; including silhouettes the surging crowd
walking toward the camera.
Views of the Fight
This is an amateur film, photographed with a
bulky hand held camera. It provides no definitive alternate view of the
bout. However, for those who are passionate
about boxing history and events, the film is a window in time. Seated on the stadium field, perhaps 20 rows
from the ring, the filmmaker captures brief excerpts throughout the fight,
sometimes no more than a few seconds at a time. Early in the reel, the camera
peers past the head of a spectator sitting in front. The photographer then moves closer to the
ring, and to a slightly better angle, possibly the aisle. In most shots, it appears the photographer
was chasing the action, rolling film directly after a flurry or anticipating a
peak in the fighting. Still, from shot
to shot, Dempsey charges in, with Tunney jabbing and countering. In one shot between rounds, we see ring card “3”
being paraded for the audience as the camera pans across the inside of the
stadium, though it’s too dark to see the crowd.
The Long Count
The seller told me that the movie did not
include the Long Count. I assumed he was
correct . . . until I viewed the film myself.
Toward the end of the reel, Tunney throws and misses a right, and then
back off. Having watched the commercial
films of the fight many times, I’m familiar with the action and recognized this
key moment. It was definitely the seventh
round. Suddenly, the camera begins to
swing around. The view of the ring is
blocked as the crowd stands. People are on
their feet, moving and waving. The crowd
is in an uproar. As the ring comes back
into view, Tunney is back on his feet, with Dempsey pursuing. The film ends shortly after.
I scanned and rendered the film to video, and
replayed the sequence in slow motion. It’s
only a few frames long, but there they are, the fighters, on the far side of
the ring; Dempsey with his back to the camera, standing over Tunney with referee
Barry’s right hand in the air, and his left reaching to direct Dempsey away -
The Long Count.
Despite the limited view of the fight, the
thrill of this film is the audience perspective, watching the fight within a
stone’s throw of the ring, surrounded by one hundred thousand cheering fans.