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Anchor Bay Entertainment presents
Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story (2005)

"He called me a maricon. I knew maricon meant faggot. And I wasn't nobody's faggot."
- Emile Griffith

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: September 19, 2005

Stars: Emile Griffith, Lucy Paret, Howie Albert, Gil Clancy
Other Stars: Benny Paret, Benny Paret Jr., Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Neal Gabler, Jose Torres, Carmen Basilio, Gaspar Ortega, Juan Gonzales, Norman Mailer, Gene Fullmer
Director: Dan Klores, Ron Berger

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for boxing violence, language
Run Time: 01:27:36
Release Date: September 20, 2005
UPC: 013131376494
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+B+ B

DVD Review

Almost without fail, if I am flipping through channels on television, and come to a boxing match, I will, usually temporarily, pause to watch. And equally without fail, if my wife is with me, she will immediately tell me in no uncertain terms to move on to another channel. She hates boxing, and to be honest, I can't blame her or anyone else for feeling that way. Boxing is a savage sport, whatever they may say about the "sweet science." It's two men trying to destroy each other, and on many occasions, terrible events have transpired within the ring. Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story looks at one of the most notorious bouts in the history of the sport, and the man at the heart of it.

In 1962, Emile Griffith and Benny "Kid" Paret, both stars within the welterweight division, met in a hotly awaited fight. The two had already fought twice, with Griffith taking Paret's championship belt in the first fight via a knockout, and Paret re-claiming the crown in the second fight by decision. The Cuban-born Paret had taunted Griffith during the second fight with the Spanish word "maricon," a homosexual slur. It was considered open knowledge among the boxing fraternity of the time that Griffith was indeed gay, and Griffith was incensed by the slur. When Paret repeated it at the weigh-in before the third fight in April 1962, Griffith nearly attacked Paret there. Griffith went on to dominate the first few rounds of their fight, until Paret knocked down Griffith unexpectedly in the sixth round. Griffith recovered to take control again, culminating in the fateful twelfth round. Griffith cornered Paret and blitzed him with a horrific series of unblocked shots to the head, leaving him in a coma. Paret would die ten days later, having never regained consciousness.

That story, and the surrounding events and their aftermath, are the story of this documentary, which follows Griffith's life story before and after that fateful fight. Griffith himself tells his own story, interviewed in 2003. The film blends several fascinating threads: the fight itself, the trajectory that led both men to that fight, the male sports world and its aversion to homosexuality, sports and television, and how one copes and eventually recovers from such acts as Griffith found himself the author of. The film has two prime strengths that lift it above the documentary pack; the first is a wealth of footage, both of the fight itself, and of background material related to it, including shots from Paret's hospital room, and of politicians cynically jumping in to stir things up.

The second strength is the rich collection of interviewees directors Dan Klores and Ron Berger were able to round up. From renowned journalists like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill to former pro boxers like Jose Torres, Caspar Ortega, and Gene Fullmer, to the actual participants, with Griffith, Paret's widow, and Griffith's trainer and manager all contributing. The material used was well-chosen and fascinating, and there didn't seem to be much sugar-coating going on.

The superb editing allows the story to progress naturally, without the use of a narrator, and the story moves smoothly through its many elements, covering the story behind Griffith and Paret's entries into boxing, and how each man was drawn into the sport through poverty and the influence of others. The film reveals elements leading to the tragic outcome of the fight, such as Paret's previous fight, which saw him try to rise a weight class. In that fight, against middleweight Gene Fullmer, Paret was absolutely brutalized, suffering a nightmarish beating. He then went into the fight against Griffith already severely damaged in some ways. Referee Ruby Goldstein, known for his quick hand in stopping out of hand fights, saw his career end after the Griffith-Paret fight, the one fight he didn't step in to stop soon enough.

And of course, there is the issue of Griffith's disputed sexuality. Jose Torres describes the assumption that Griffith was gay as common knowledge throughout the boxing world, but like any good closed society, its members kept the knowledge to itself. As noted in the film, and as any reasonably clued-in sports fan will know, no male sports figure has come out as gay during his career. Newspapers played down the slurs against Griffith until the aftermath of the fight, and even then played down the actual content of what Paret had said. Griffith for his part denied it, and after all, who could think a guy as tough as Griffith could be gay? The film looks at this part of Griffith's life during the final third, which does tend to drag a bit, which isn't a shock given the electric material of the middle act. Griffith, who frequented gay bars in New York City, was severely beaten leaving a gay bar in 1992, which resulted in permanent brain damage.

In the end though, the film's most potent elements are love and reconciliation, and the ending sequence is one to savor, so I won't spoil it by saying much about it. It is a deeply moving ending for an excellent documentary on a difficult subject, one it would have been easy to make overly lurid or sensational, and the filmmakers should be commended for a sensitive, thoughtful piece of work.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The interview footage looks clean and colorful as it should, with few noticeable defects. The vintage footage looks as good as it can, which means fairly grainy and beat up in some cases, which isn't a surprise given the age and nature of the some of the material.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The box lists a Dolby 5.1 mix, but the disc appears to only be in Dolby 2.0, which is plenty for this type of project. Everything is fairly clear, though some subtitles would have been nice for the occasional hard to decipher comment.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
16 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Directors Dan Klores and Ron Berger
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A series of sixteen outtakes are included (16m:52s), providing further snippets of information about Griffith's life. Some are inessential, some are interesting for revealing more of the antagonisms between the individuals interviewed. Also included is a commentary with directors refreshing in its general bluntness. They cover the making of the film in its various stages and discuss the participants and their choices in where and what they used from each. It's a fairly interesting listen, and worth hearing for those who admire the film.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

A fascinating documentary, Ring of Fire is highly recommended to both boxing fans and those not acquainted with the sport, as its story transcends mere sports into something much greater. The DVD is a quality presentation of the film with some good extras.


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