Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Georges Carpentier vs Wells, Papke & Grundhoven

Georges Carpentier vs Wells, Papke & Grundhoven
Pathe Newsreel Segments 1912, 1920
3 minutes 10 seconds

The Fighter
I came across these Pathe fight films which I had never seen before. It inspired me to take a fresh look Georges Carpentier, the great French boxing champion who fought internationally 1908-1926. He had his first professional fight at the age of 14 and quickly became the Golden Boy of France. At 5’11” he was a lean, crafty and skilled boxer with surprising KO power. During his career, he grew and fought from Welterweight to Heavyweight. Unfortunately he’s most remembered in the U.S. as road kill for Jack Dempsey in their famous title fight of 1921. After that bout, Carpentier and Dempsey became friends, and for years visited and celebrated the anniversaries of their fight. Carpentier also fought Gene Tunney, and did well early in their 1924 fight, but Tunney’s size and strength were too much. To add insult to the loss, Tunney fouled Carpentier with a low blow in the 14th, and Carpentier collapsed. Carpentier was also a respected referee, and can be seen, at age 20, as the third man in the ring for the Jack Johnson vs Frank Moran heavyweight title fight in Paris 1914. An irony is the fact that Carpentier was also a top heavyweight contender at the time, though he never fought Johnson.

The Film
It’s too bad this segment is so short, but it’s still a gem. Carpentier is briefly shown in action against two American middleweight boxers and a Belgian heavyweight. The fights were held in Paris. The first opponent is labeled as “Lewis”, and according to the record, this is either either Harry or Willie Lewis circa 1912. The third shows Carpentier’s KO of heavyweight Georges Grundhoven in 1920 winning the European Heavyweight title. The most significant clip is Carpentier challenging the great middleweight champion Billy Papke in 1912, who had also fought the Stanley Ketchel. We see action in the 17th round, where Carpentier has suffered a severe cut and is struggling to hold on. The fight was stopped in the next round.

The Restoration
Film speed adjusted.
Contrast improved.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Joe Louis vs Bob Pastor II 1939

Joe Louis vs Bob Pastor II
Detroit Stadium, September 20, 1939
Film Transfer, Silent 10 Minutes

The Fight
After Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling in 1938, avenging his only pro career loss, the young heavyweight champion began an uncommonly busy schedule of fights that is unfairly referred to as “The Bum of The Month Club”. This series of title fights ran through 1939-1941 and ended when faced the giant Buddy Baer, followed by former Light Heavyweight champion Bill Conn. Not since Tommy Burns world tour of 1906-1908 had a heavyweight champion been so active. Far from unworthy, most of Louis’s opponents were nonetheless outclassed by one of the most dangerous fighting machines in boxing history. This was also the depression era, and few fighters could afford the top notch trainers and support needed to prepare for such a demanding title fight. It has to be said, regardless of the results, that Louis challengers came to fight. Once such challenger was Bob Pastor, who had gone a full 10 rounds with pre-champion Louis in 1937. The feat earned him a shot at the title in September 1939. Pastor put up a spirited defense, surviving an early beating and even staged a rally in the eighth round. In the eleventh, Louis got down to business and knocked Pastor senseless.

The Film
According to The New York Times, the bout was filmed by Hollywood producer Jack Dietz using two cameras. Though I have never seen the original footage, the prints I have seen, including this one, is badly overexposed. Both Louis and Pastor appear chalky and blown out against the background. Like other fight films of the day, the movie was shown in theatres where it was a successful attraction.

The Restoration
Despite the exposure, the film still has plenty of detail. I was able to adjust the contrast, and remove much of the flaring. This increased the clarity, and correcting the film speed made the fight easier to follow. Not yet 30 years old, Louis was at the peak of his powers. He’s patient, conditioned, focused and deadly accurate with his punches. How Pastor survived the first round I’ll never know.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sam McVea vs Battling Jim Johnson 1910

Sam McVea vs Battling Jim Johnson
Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine, France, 8/7/10
French Pathe Films 6:29

The Fight
Fight films were big business at the turn of the 20th century. During this period, the Europeans were often more faithful in filming and preserving fight movies than Americans. It has long been rumored that a treasure of vintage footage in France and England has yet to be made available. However, some films have recently come to light, including this rare and amazing film of two great African American boxers in action, Sam McVea & Battling Jim Johnson, filmed in Neuilly, Hauts-de-Seine, France, August 8, 1910. This same venue also hosted part of the 1910 Olympic Games.

There is some debate about the date and identity of this film. Sam McVey is easy to recognize, but some have said his opponent was either Jack Johnson or San Langford. After having researched photographs and records of the fighters, it’s clear that neither is Johnson or Langford. Jack Johnson’s record does not show him in France or fighting there in 1911. Sam Langford was in France at the time, but was much shorter than the boxer facing McVea. Photographs of Battling Johnson match the build and stance of the boxer shown in the film. There’s also the question of the date, since Johnson and McVea fought in Paris in August 1910 and again in November 1911. Here the answer is with the spectators. November in Paris is rainy and cold. The outdoor audience in the film is dressed in fashionable clothes, typical for the period in warm weather.

The fight itself begins at a pace much faster than other bouts of the day. McVea and Johnson appear skilled, conditioned and in their respective primes. A newspaper report of the fight mentions McVea as starting out smiling and confident in the opening round, and he appears this way in the film. However, Johnson takes the fight to McVea and the two are trading equally at the end of the round. It strikes me that the defensive tactical style that we associate with Jack Johnson was in fact common among African American boxers during this period. It’s thrilling to see two fighters in action.

The Film
Unfortunately this clip is very short. We see the boxers enter the ring; receive instructions, followed by the opening round. Brief portions of other rounds are also shown, but there is no continuity to the film. There are frequent cuts, and it’s impossible to tell if this was sloppy editing, or if the cameraman stopped and started the camera depending on the action. Notice at 4:52, McVea appears to be rising from a knockdown or likely a slip. It’s hard to tell if the referee was counting or just waving the fighters to resume. Pathe newsreels began in 1910, so the film may have been filmed for that purpose. In any case, the fight went to a 15 round draw. The film emulsion deteriorates and the movie comes to an end.

The original film is clear well exposed, having been shot under daylight. However, the camera was cranked very slow, so the movement runs extremely fast when projected normally. I adjusted the picture, enhancing the levels and contrast. The film speed was brought down 30% to approximate real time. Highlights are replayed in slow motion at the end.