Thursday, March 30, 2023

Fighting Stars, December 1975 / Jim Kelly and Black Belt Jones / Is That Black Enough for You?!?

Keep you guard up, scan land, the Darwination Scans time machine continues to  stick and move, bob and weave, and generally kick much ass in a continuing exploration of American magazine culture.  Tonight, I offer an older scan.  My scans, McCoy's edits. Fighting Stars, December 1975.

Enter Jim Kelly, rampaging through American cinema on the heels of his performance as ultra badass and ladies man Mr. Williams in Bruce Lee's classic Enter The Dragon (1973) and his leading role in Black Belt Jones (1974).

Get the full scan in all of its grubby, low pro glory here: Fighting Stars v02n06 (1975-12.Rainbow)(D vs. M).cbr

Or you can view it or download in other formats at the Internet Archive here

I've repaired any broken links or images on an earlier post of a later issue of the magazine here:

Added to the earlier post is a George Benson tune from the mentioned Muhammad Ali film, The Greatest.  You've been warned.

The excellent trailer for Black Belt Jones which received mixed reviews and box office results but later gained a certain cult status for badassery.

Surprisingly, Kelly is only the second most badass character in the trailer. Sydney, played by Gloria Hendry takes no shit when Jones acts the heel and points, "Do those dishes or something" equivalent to the "make me a sandwich" used by moron bros everywhere.  Careful bros, you might just get a foot in your ass.

Kelly and the film get mention in the most excellent recent Netflix doc, Is That Black Enough For You ?!?

Halfway expecting a slapdash exploitation of blaxploitation, I was instead amazed at the density of film history on display (the film covers the entire history of black cinema leading up to the 70s era and what was to follow. I thought of the film after ill-advisedly wading into a tired discussion on the current trend of "diversity" casting in modern film.  I'd recommend the movie for some insight into just how it feels to never see yourself represented in film.  There's a bit of that in the trailer.

You can almost see the emotion in Samuel Jackson's eyes as he looks away saying, "When I was a kid kid, we had Step n Fetchit, Willie Best, Buckwheat...But I still wanted to be them."  Some of the most touching moments in the film are when black actors recount their experiences in the cinemas of New York City as kids trying to interpret their exclusion from the cinema.

The age of blaxploitation was short, but in many ways a golden age for black actors, directors, and stories about, you know, black people.  Never since and likely never again will the mainstream so wholeheartedly embrace and empower black film (blaxploitation prospered because there was money to be made in that particular era make no bones about it)

Admittedly, a lot of the movies of the era are bad, but, as any lover of B cinema knows, even bad movies may have their redeeming qualities.  Most notedly, the soundtracks are often AMAZING.  The soundtracks would precede the film, ginning up interest - more famous examples include classic albums like Issac Hayes' Shaft or Curtis Mayfield's Superfly (a classic American album by any measure).  But the quality of the soundtracks goes beyond the more famous examples.  There's jazz legend Roy Ayers' Coffy or Willie Hutch's The Mack.  James Brown's soundtrack for Slaughter's Big Rip-Off.  Hell, let's play Slaughter's Theme right now, J.B. truly was the Godfather of Soul. The opening calls remind me so much of some Kendrick Lamar (one of my son's faves) I've been listening to.

Or J.B.'s soundtrack for Black Caesar or Edwin Starr's Hell up in Harlem .  J.J. Johnson, Lou Rawls, Herbie Hancock, Smokey Robinson, Ohio Players, Norman Whitfield and many other legends of American music helmed soundtracks of the era.

I'll spin one last soundtrack side for the hell of it, Memphis represent, a subtler entry perhaps and preceding the blaxploitation era, Booker T. and The MG's soundtrack for Jules Dassin's Uptight, I really like this.

A great flick! 9/10 stars without flinching.  Of particular interest to pulp fiction fans might be blaxploitation adaptations of Chester Himes' Cotton Comes to Harlem and  The Heat's On (Come Back, Charleston Blue), interesting takes on Himes' Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones.  Himes may not quite be up there with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but, in my book, it's pretty close.

Anyways.  Maybe there's some insight in the experiences of these black actors never recognizing themselves on the screen but then finally getting an opportunity that enlightens the debate on diversity casting.  While I may not necessarily be rushing out to see Disney's live action adaptation of Peter Pan featuring lost girls among the lost boys, I think any issues with diversity casting is the least of Disney's problems right now.  Maybe start with some good storytelling and avoid these live action remakes.  How about another Dumbo or Snow White.  I guess for now I'll have to be happy with the Pixar pictures which my kids loved (me too, UP? classic. Or Disney's releases of Miyazaki's Spirited Away or Ponyo, all credit to Miyazaki for those beauties though, his stuff is some of the best cinema there is).  

How much difference does it really make if some comic hero is Asian instead of white? a detective gay instead of straight? or if they were to experiment with *gasp* a female bond?  They're just characters.  I get that historical and cultural markers can be important, but, let's be honest, much of the time it does not really matter and toying around with background just *could* help explore characterization.  In any case, new generations of filmgoers might appreciate seeing people that look like themselves on screen, as evidenced  by black science fiction fans appreciations on Nichelle Nichols passing (who played Star Trek's Lt. Uhura) in being able to see someone that looks like they do on the deck of the Enterprise.  I'm not saying we need to upend our more historical strain of cinema (which is pretty tiny if you think about it, movies have rarely reflected reality) just that varying representation from the pretty much all white Hollywood representations of yesteryear is hardly an injustice to worry about.

Hopping off the soapbox now.  Don't plan on getting back up there very often.   

Back to Jim Kelly and Fighting Stars.



Before we get to Jim Kelly, let's go to the interesting article on Battling Siki (given name Louis Fall).  Considering recent focus on Siki contemporary Jack Johnson, it's surprising there hasn't been any excavation of the story of Siki. Siki tells his own story in a piece of autobiography from the Bellingham American newspaper from 1922 they've posted at BoxRec (a nice fight resource) which you can read here.  Most amazing to me in the wiki listing for Siki is the frequency at which he would enter the ring.  I counted sixteen bouts in 1920 alone. Today, even lower tier MMA fighters will only fight 3 or 4 four times a year. Champions and top fighters may only fight one or two times a year.  The toll on the bodies of the early fighters must have been extreme indeed. And, like Johnson or Dempsey, Siki lived a fast life.  An impressive string of wins that led up to the fight with Carpentier in 1922 we are about to read about would turn a win loss rate of about .500 in 1923 and early 1924 followed by a very bad record of losses until his last fight in November of 1925.  There's no doubt the bottle got him.  Or CTE, what the hell, all those fights so close, smh.  In December of 1925, Siki would fight no more. As with many prizefighters, a change in fortune came quickly and violently.  A drunken Siki was shot twice in the back and died on a New York Street at the age of 28.  No one was ever charged.

Where I have seen Siki's story before in popular culture, though (at least of his fight with Carpentier) is in vintage boxing magazines like The Ring (the most famous of all boxing titles) or Fiction House's Fight Stories, a pulp I've shared at least one issue of here at Darwin Scans.  And here it is in Fighting Stars. Magazines are a great resource for discovering and researching fight lore. They refresh the cultural memory on the great fights and fighters of yesteryear.  These are our legends, and us fight fans do like a good story.  

You always wonder how some of these characters might fare against the modern fighter (poorly would be my guess, but they were indeed tough sons of bitches, I have no doubt of that).

But let's see how Siki fared against Carpentier.

Set up as a patsy for french filmmakers looking to capture the fight on film (films of fights were big money makers in the days before TV and PPV), Siki agreed to take a dive.  But in the third round Carpentier hit him too hard.  He hadn't agreed to this.  When he got up, the dive was off.  Time to bang, bro. Hemingway was at the fight. I'd like to see his account.

You can watch right here through the wonder of Youtube and decide what you think happened.

Carpentier had it coming, and you have to love the quick reversal of judges' decision.  I'm not gonna call out any names, but the UFC has seen some horrible judging in the last year.  If you think the days of "the fix" are over, you'd be wrong.  It may not be so blatant or even clearly intentional, but the fighter that might be in the promotion's best interest to win often does so, even if Dana White declares the result an injustice afterwards.  Fighters be getting robbed, yo

More interesting to me in the article is not the Carpentier fight but the acknowledgement of the racial elements in boxing of the day and even Siki's own playing to stereotypes. Fighters still do it.  Look at that whiskey shilling cartoon of an Irishman, Connor McGregor.  Every time I see a Proper Twelve commercial during a UFC event, I'm ready to hurl.  He's gonna get his, though.  Oddsmakers have it as a pickem in the lead up to the Chandler fight, but, make no mistake, the fool's money is gonna be on the Irishman - just where Vegas wants it.  Danger Will Robinson, Danger. I'm not a sports gambler, by the way, as I don't like gambling to interfere with my love of sport. I would be happy to sit down for a game of poker with you, though :D

The hour grows late and the lights begin to dim here in the Darwination time machine. Time to get up the Kelly article.  Like McGregor, Kelly says he's not here to take part but to take over.  Indeed the future looked bright for Kelly.  Coming from Karate (and Tennis?!) competition, Kelly's appearance in Enter the Dragon mesmerized.  By Black Samurai, perhaps, the act had grown stale. I'm going to have to go back an watch Three The Hard Way, sort of a blaxploitation All-Star, I don't think I've seen that one.  Or Kelly's appearance in Highway to Heaven o.O 

Lord help us.

Wow, I found an article on Michael Landon as tennis player in a sister pub in my file of old scans just now, Stars in Sports, August 1974.  I wonder if that's how he ended up on Highway to Heaven, some tennis connection. That's a fun title, too, I'll post it sometime.

Here's the image I just fished out though - I'd forgotten about until the mention of tennis back there. Kelly from another magazine I posted long ago here at Darwin Scans (I'll fix that post, too. Goddamn, so much housekeeping to be done around the museum here - it's my own fault for letting it fall into disrepair these many years!)

Right On! v06n04 (1977-02.Laufer) Centerfold Jim Kelly. Priceless. 

Black Samurai looks like he belongs at the country club.  And that racket! It's about half the size of mine.  I don't doubt Kelly would run my ass off the court, though.  Dude's a specimen.

See you next time, scan lovers.


Yocitrus said...

Thanks for sharing the Siki vs Carpentier link.
I'm hardly an authority but do enjoy seeing older fight footage like this.

darwination said...

There's a colorized version of it (maybe some youtuber does it) that may be even better, but I couldn't find it in the system blogger uses to search and link youtube vids.

I like the older fight footage, too. It can be hard to see what you might call the technical details of the sweet science, but you definitely get a good sense for the spectacle of these huge fights, and it's really so different than how we fight today.

It's pretty amazing that there's so much footage of old old fights but it makes sense when the films could be distributed to theaters. No doubt there was a huge demand to see these hyped up super fights along with people having more disposable income in the 20s, the expansion of theaters, etc. to make the films super popular (and profitable).

Glad to see you about the blog, Yoc, you must be like one of the ten people that read my posts, but I'm having fun in any case :D