Political Film Society - Newsletter #142 - September 1, 2002

September 1, 2002


UndisputedUndisputed is primarily for aficionados of boxing, with a lot of time devoted to fights. Film footage even includes Braddock's knockout in 1937 by Joe Louis, whom one character, Emmanuel "Mendy" Ripstein (played by Peter Falk), regards as the finest boxer of all time. The plot is totally unrealistic, however. Most action takes place at Sweetwater Prison, a facility of some 700 hardened criminals in California's Mojave Desert (though actually filmed at the High Desert State Prison in Nevada). We are told that inmates at maximum-security Sweetwater are so nasty that the facility exists to keep them away from inmates in other correctional institutions; they are violent criminals and members of organized crime, many serving life sentences. Each character, including Ripstein, is introduced by titles with their name and criminal offense. Miraculously, Sweetwater has no racial problems; a white guy (played by Fisher Stevens), for example, is the fight manager of Monroe Hutchen (played by Wesley Snipes), an African American murderer who has not lost a boxing match during his decade or so of incarceration. One day a helicopter arrives, delivering World Heavyweight Champ James "Iceman" Chambers (played by Ving Rhames), who has just been convicted of a single act of rape, with civil charges in the pipeline; the inference is that he has been railroaded because he is Black. A self-composed Black rape victim appears from time to time in televised interviews to profess that she started to have sex with Iceman, then withdrew her consent when she was treated rough, whereas Iceman claims that there was no rape because her consent was never withdrawn. (Rape carries the death penalty in some states, provided the victim dies, so the he-said-she-said offense appears not to warrant placement into Sweetwater.) In contrast, Iceman is anything but self-composed. From the time he arrives at Sweetwater he tries to bully everyone, arrogantly in words and crudely with fists, claiming that he has to do so to survive. The only person whom he accepts as a friend is his cellmate, Mingo Sixkiller (played by Wes Studi). When Iceman learns that Hutchen is the boxing champ of Sweetwater, he strides up to him in the mess hall, takes a swing at him, but Hutchen instead of Iceman ends up in solitary confinement, obviously a mere device in the story to delay the inevitable fight between them long enough to enable more character development. While in solitary, Hutchen spends his time meticulously building a pagoda with matchsticks between doing exercises to keep fit, thus gaining the respect of filmviewers. Eventually, Iceman ends up in solitary over an altercation, but Ripstein puts pressure through channels to organize the inevitable--a match between Hutchen and Iceman. Ripstein insists that the London boxing rules (pre-Queensbury) must be followed, presumably to even the odds, and bets arranged by Vegas bigshots are in the millions. Hutchen's supporters propose to put sleeping pills into Iceman's last meal before the fight, he vetoes the idea, but who knows what really happens? The outcome of the match is predictable. Some sort of deal is made to have Iceman released from prison when the match is over despite his dismally poor prison record. Then, in an epilog, Iceman defeats a challenger to regain his "undisputed" heavyweight championship, but the camera soon focuses on Hutchen, and the word "Undisputed" appears. Directed by Walter Hill, Undisputed may be perceived by most cinema patrons as a glorification of the art of boxing. But the perspicacious observer will notice that the sport reeks of the smell of gangsters, punks, and gambling interests, even in prison. MH

La Reina LocaWhy is Spain's Queen Juana known as Juana the Mad? La Reina Loca (retitled in the United States as Mad Love) seeks to answer the question. The film begins with a short scene of Queen Juana (played by Pilar López de Ayala), who in the year 1555 feels sorry for herself, as she has been imprisoned in a Spanish castle for nearly fifty years. The next scene is in 1496, when Castile's reigning Queen Isabel (played by Susi Sánchez) tries to calm her nervous seventeen-year-old daughter Juana about her impending marriage with Archduke Philip of Flanders (Daniele Liotti), an important geopolitical move to maintain peace between the Hapsburg Empire and the growing power of Castile. (Isabel was, of course, then queen of Castile and Aragón; Fernando II was only king of Aragón.) Upon meeting eighteen-year-old Philip in Flanders, she is enthralled at first sight by his masculinity, and he quickly has the marriage blessed and carries Juana into his bedroom. From that point, Juana is obsessed with sexual desire for him. She bears him children, but he is sexually active with others, as before, and she so shocks the court with jealous antics that she is called "loca" (the Spanish word for "crazy") behind her back. Yet she persists in wanting his body as if she were a twenty-first century liberated woman. In 1500, Queen Isabel dies; Juana succeeds to the throne of Castile, so Philip is her consort. (Actually, the succession is far more complicated, but director Vicente Aranda takes literary license.) They go to Castile to take up their positions, but jealousy continues to haunt her, this time in the person of Aixa (played by Manuela Arcuri), a daughter of a Moorish king who has taken the Spanish name Beatrix. Juana's jealous rages continue, eclipsing her duties as sovereign. Meanwhile, Aixa gives syphilis to Philip, a fact that is covered up until he lies on his deathbed with chancres. Accordingly, Philip's principal aide De Vere (played by Giuliano Gemma) plots to have Juana declared insane so that the throne can pass to Philip before his death, thus enabling the Habsburgs to control Castile without a shot. When the Castilian nobles realize that their independence is at stake, they meet with Juana to stop the plot. But she is not like England's Elizabeth, who put politics above personal concerns; Juana refuses to listen to their plea and instead is in the middle of trying to prove who is the author of an adulterous letter. The Castilian nobles then realize that Juana is indeed unfit to govern and agree to her arrest. However, before she is incarcerated, Philip collapses and continues to fail in health while Juana hopes that he will recover. After he dies at the age of twenty-eight, she is arrested. The final scene reverts to 1555, when she is imprisoned in a castle, admiring a picture of her only love. We are left with the distinct impression that Juana was neurotically obsessed by love but not insane by current standards, so the film serves to redeems her reputation. Titles at the end are absent, as a Spanish film does not need to educate its own public on the history of the country, namely, that their son Charles became King of Castile when he reached maturity in 1516, though court intrigue continued until then, as Fernando II still was king of Aragón. In 1519, Charles was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor, uniting much of Europe under a single authority. MH