Saturday, August 08, 2009

Damaged Goods

Documentary exposes harsh reality of life after boxing


There is a scene in the documentary "After The Last Round" when an old man named Harry Moyer wanders over to his son Phil and begins to wipe Phil's face with a tissue, precisely as he would have done years earlier when Phil was boxing and Harry was his trainer.

Phil suffers from dementia and stares past his father, unfocussed and lost.
"You're all right," whispers Harry to his aging son.
Phil, however, clearly is not all right.

In his 90s, Harry is in much better shape than Phil and his other son Denny, who also was a world-ranked fighter out of Portland, Ore., in the 1950s and '60s.

The camera then pans out to show Denny and Phil sitting in adjoining chairs, starring blankly ahead, brothers bound by the brutal sport of boxing and the wretched consequences the so-called "sweet science" exacts on those who embrace it.

Everyone who has ever watched a round of boxing generally is aware that the sport is -- particularly at the professional level -- dangerous and potentially lethal. But what we don't see is what happens to these damaged fighters after they walk away from the ring.

Denny and Phil Moyer were legends in the Portland area, world-ranked middleweights, charismatic and handsome.

Now, they are broken, suffering from dementia, living together at a nursing home, in need of constant care, their conditions deteriorating.

Laura Moyer, Phil's daughter, describes how when they first took her father to the home, the tough ex-fighter, who fought the very best of his day, including Sugar Ray Robinson, began crying.

"He said: 'Please don't leave me here,' " said Laura, breaking down in tears. "But we couldn't take care of him anymore."
The executive producer of After The Last Round is Tom Moyer, a cousin of Denny and Phil.

Now a resident of Santa Barbara, Calif., Tom grew up in Portland, where the Moyers were the first family of boxing. Tom's father also trained Phil and Denny. But what was once a source of pride for the family has turned into tragedy. And not just because of Denny and Phil's dementia. Harry also is a victim, as he spends his remaining days dealing with the fact that he put his boys in the ring and is, in a way, the architect of their demise.

Decades later, having witnessed his cousins' downward spiral, Tom Moyer encouraged his own son Patrick and Patrick's friend, the filmmaker Ryan Pettey, to take put together a documentary, not just about the Moyer family, but on what happens to fighters after the final bell has sounded.

Patrick is the film's producer and Pettey the director.
The film shows that not only are many ex-professional fighters, perhaps even the majority, damaged goods, most are destitute, or nearly there -- cast away like broken toys, treated worse than greyhound dogs.

There is no pension for ex-fighters. Most walk away with nothing, in fact, less than nothing, because they leave boxing with less than what they had going in.
After The Last Round profiles boxers who are in the advanced state of dementia, or blind, or broke, but also examines why some fighters, including many who waged tremendous wars in the ring and absorbed untold punishment -- such as Canadian heavyweight legend George Chuvalo -- have survived seemingly unscathed, at least physically.

Tom Moyer is justifiably proud of the film, but equally frustrated, as he is attempting to have the movie included in this year's Toronto International Film Festival. But as of yet, he has had no luck.

Near the end of the documentary, the camera focuses on Denny's wife, Sandy.
"He's living over there, but really he's dead," she says of her husband. "And nobody cares. Frankly, nobody ever will care. But I care."
Tom Moyer's reason for producing After the Last Round, and for pushing for its inclusion in this year's TIFF, is so more people will care.

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