Photos and Video
The boxing film is hit with a fierce uppercut in this clever documentary about the training regimen and sparring contests of Oxford University students who step out of the ivory tower and into the boxing ring. According to Blue Blood's opening credits: "Oxford and Cambridge have a centuries-old rivalry, but once a year they settle matters with their fists." Not exactly born into the sport, the polite and suitably fine-boned men of the Oxford Boxing Club come from backgrounds in astrophysics, mathematics, philosophy, and debating. But they all share the desire to periodically leave their chosen fields behind, train as hard as they can, step into the ring, and beat the crap out of those cream-suited Cambridge boys. However, there's not a true pugilist among them when they first begin training (nor, it must be said, when they finish it), as each is either too scrawny, too slow, or too stoned. Nevertheless, their unsuitability for the sport is what makes Blue Blood so absorbing and so genre-tweaking. Most sports documentaries follow individuals who excel in their particular sport, but the men of Blue Blood will never possess an Olympian's technique or a professional's body. All they have are their hearts and their desire to win. "It doesn't matter what the audience is yelling," counsels Des, their broken-nosed coach, to one of his charges. "You're the one in this ring; you're the one doing it." In underlining the freedom to not care about failing, or about what other people think, Blue Blood paints a winning portrait of the spirit of the underdog.
Director's Statement Collapse
When wracking my brain for a new documentary it was with a mini-Eureka that I remembered the Oxford v. Cambridge Varsity Boxing Match. Having studied at Oxford I had attended the annual fight night and been blown away by the charged atmosphere and ferocity of the bouts. I watched perplexed as ordinarily polite academics hurled obscenities across the balconies; hoof-stomping as their boxers tore at each other like bears in a pit. It really was a bizarre night out.
As for any bystander, it was a shock for me to see the world’s intellectual elite ritualistically beating the crap out of each other. I had of course picked up on the rivalry between the institutions but this event had curiously never hit the national media. I was further surprised to discover the profound historical significance of the fixture. The Varsity match lies at the origin of modern boxing and is perhaps the world’s longest-running inter-club contest. It is old school in the truest sense of the word and for this alone it deserves an audience.
My intention though was not to provide a retrospective account but instead an eclectic modern character piece. I was fortunate in this respect as, unlike most Oxford societies, the boxing club attracts a mixed bag of personalities from very different backgrounds. Their honesty and charisma has allowed the film to fluctuate between being earnest and humorous; everyday and epic.
The University was initially very wary about allowing me to film because of both the anti-boxing lobby and past experience of filmmakers who had overplayed negative Oxford stereotypes. Persuading the authorities was one thing but the TV broadcasters were still unconvinced. To raise the development funds I therefore appealed to Oxford alumni who luckily provided cash to get things rolling. Only after a semester’s filming and the putting together of a promo were the BBC inspired to offer a commission. Even then the budget was insufficient to cover a full-time editor so I set about navigating my way around Final Cut Pro. Meanwhile my fellow producer, Rafi, embarked on a grand offensive to secure the music rights to 9 major artist tracks – no mean feat when all you have is empty pockets.
2 years from its start and after much finagling, ‘Blue Blood’ is now hot off the press. There may be little time for slouching however. With the 100th Varsity match less than year away and with London’s Royal Albert Hall touted as a venue, there is already chat about ‘Blue Blood II’. Now that girls have been admitted for the first time in the contest’s history, I may be coaxed to dust off the camera. Presuming they’re attractive, I may give myself a dusting too!
Film Information Collapse
[BLUEB] | 2006 | 89 | Documentary Feature
Directed by: Stevan Riley
Foreign Title: (Blue Blood)
About the Director(s)Collapse
Stevan Riley took a roundabout route to filmmaking. While at Oxford University, he worked at an investment bank, an accountancy firm, and an advertising agency before jumping off the gravy train and stepping out in film. With no money to attend film school, he took out a loan to buy a PD-150 camera, and then set off to work. On a promising lead he headed to Bosnia with friends to uncover the story of musical youth trapped in war-torn Sarajevo. This documentary, Rave Against the Machine, later sold to UK's Channel 4 and has won prizes at five international festivals. His work is characterized by its freewheeling and irreverent style underpinned by a marked sense of inquiry and empathy.