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Gritty Pulp Filmmaking – COCKFIGHTER

COCKFIGHTER is a great film about a brutal sport, and one of character actor Warren Oates‘ finest performances.

Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop) adapts Charles Willeford‘s novel to the screen with help from the author. And though it holds the dubious distinction of being one of the few Roger Corman-produced films to ever fail at the box office (perhaps due to being banned in England), 1974’s Cockfighter (aka Born to Kill) is a fantastic movie which offers a rare glimpse into the seedy underbelly of Southern society. When we first meet Frank Mansfield he’s a loud-mouthed braggart slicing the beak on a bird to increase the odds against him in an upcoming fight. When he subsequently loses his trailer, girlfriend and entire fortune to Harry Dean Stanton, he vows to keep his big yapper shut until he wins the coveted Cockfighter of the Year award. So off he goes in search of adventure and earnings, in gambling dens across the South, where with the help of old acquaintances he attempts to rebuild his cock army (one of the best sentences I’ve ever written). The novel’s incredible attention to detail may be missing, including instructions on how to prepare your bird and strategies during fights (do you use the short spurs or long spurs? How do you tell if your cock is a gamer? Do you pick a Kentucky Dom or a Tennessee Gray, etc), but Frank’s silent journey, full of personal demons and Quixotic determination, translate to the screen perfectly, thanks in large part to Warren Oates, who delivers a performance on par with his turn in Sam Peckinpah‘s Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. As much a tale of the fight raging inside Frank as it is about the birds (which are captured by Hellman with a dreamlike lyricism belying their inherent brutality), Cockfighter emerges as a universal tale of redemption, as satisfying on the screen as it is on the page. I recommend you experience both for maximum effect.

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October 14, 2010   2 Comments

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