In my own lifetime, I’ve seen the movie industry change dramatically over the years. As a kid, it wasn’t all that unusual for folks to go to a movie theater without a specific flick in mind, as though going to the movies was akin to going to the bar; you don’t have to know what you want to order, to know you could use a drink.
Times have changed, of course, and our movies have to suit. Now, most of the money is made by a handful of spectacles (and a great deal of it is sourced from overseas markets where plot isn’t as important as special effects), and although I do love a good superhero flick… I can’t help but miss the good old days, when all you need was two make believe boxers, some short shorts and a lovely day at the beach to get me invested in a story.
I had the awful realization recently that my daughter, who just turned 12 weeks old yesterday, will grow up in a world where the movies that shaped me will all seem… old, outdated, even cheesy to her. “Who cares about some boxer working out in the snow, Dad?” I hear her whining in my nightmares. “I want to watch Miley Bieber dry hump the stage at the Kid’s Choice Awards!”
This isn’t a new concern for parents, it’s just a new one for me. I recall my father trying to subject me to black and white films as a kid, and although I eventually returned to flicks like “Citizen Cain,” “Casablanca,” and even “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I did so out of a bit of perverse irony. It was so uncool to think black and white movies were cool that the inevitable culturally backlash made it cool again. In effect, my rebellious teenage mind tricked me into liking the classics, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to count on the same luck befalling my own little one… and in my mind, that’s a tragedy. As she sighs and rolls her eyes, she’ll miss Marty and Doc attending the “Enchantment Under the Sea” Dance. While she complains about dad’s boring movies, she’s going to miss my lecture about how Iceman is actually the hero of “Top Gun” because he’s a team player that doesn’t put other pilots in jeopardy. As she falls asleep out of boredom, she’s going to miss important lessons about the tell-tale shimmer that gives away the Predator’s location in the jungle.
But most of all, I’m sad that she’s going to miss out on the workout montages.
When I was a kid, I wasn’t much of an athlete. Despite my time playing peewee football (which we actually called Midget Football at the time, but I’m sure that name has been sent out to pasture), I was always the skinny, awkward younger brother to our family’s real athlete – my big brother, Earle. While he was drawing crowds at his high school football games, I was pounding water in front of a scale just to be heavy enough to make weigh in for my Saturday games. While he was being interviewed by college scouts, I was at home, watching Rocky train and imagining a day when even I might somehow weigh as much as 200 pounds.
Small as I was, I was motivated, and any time that motivation seemed to be lacking, I had a secret weapon: the workout montage.
I dare you to watch that montage and not convulse off the couch in some kind of strength-based seizure as all your muscles begin firing to the beat of “Hearts on Fire.” Back in the days before YouTube, I would sit there in front of my father’s VCR, fast forwarding through dialogue and waiting for my chance to see how real men trained to fight the Cold War with their fists, or compete in a Hong Kong Kumite to the death.
Even as I got older, I always found myself drawn to well put together training montages, even if they found themselves cut into otherwise mediocre (or worse) films. The movie “Never Back Down” came out years after I had already enlisted in the Marine Corps, but before I found myself fighting competitively. Even without the first hand experience to pull from, I knew its depictions of combat sports were ludicrous… but the workout montage from that movie is among the best of the modern era, though admittedly, there isn’t much competition.
Like the montages from those two movies more than 20 years this film’s senior, the point of the workout montage is to demonstrate progress over a long span of “real” time, within a short window of “film” time. Of course, because these movies do little to communicate how long has actually passed during the montage, you’re left with a sense that the progress you saw before you could happen soon, maybe even today, if you just push hard enough. It’s an unrealistic expectation, but man, it always convinced me to try.
Training montages aren’t limited to this kind of fighting, of course. Regardless of the complaints I have about the movie “Jarhead,” this training montage is fantastic.
Now, I’ve seen lofty think pieces around the internet that are really critical of the workout montage and that unrealistic expectation for results, blaming our upbringing on these movies for the recent trend of Americans emphasizing unrealistic expectations out of fad diets, supplements, and miracle workouts. Honestly, that could be true to an extent – I too wish I could just take a pill and be in the sort of shape I’d need to be to fight Clubber Lang, but if I’m honest with myself, that sounds like a bit of diffused responsibility. Human beings have always been lazy, so I’ll hold off on blaming the movie studios for the spare tire that’s been waging a war on my midsection since I crossed over into my thirties… at least for now.
The new trend in movies, of course, is for the main character to be “the chosen one.” Neo didn’t need to work for his abilities, he’s the one. Harry Potter, Rey from Star Wars and so many other protagonists in modern film are all heroes that were born, not made. Sure, they might need to brush up on some magic, maybe download some karate or learn some new light saber moves, but all of these heroes were destined for the title. My heroes, the ones I grew up with, they earned it through sweat.
In previous articles, I’ve discussed the danger of relying on motivation to carry you along your fitness journey: it’s a fleeting emotion that tends to tuck tale and run at the first sign of hardship, and on paper, I’ll take discipline over motivation any day…
But there’s something to be said for watching a kick ass workout montage right before you hit the weights. Give it a try sometime and see for yourself. Who knows, maybe, if enough of us do it, we could see a return of heroes in cinema that have to go for a jog from time to time to maintain their perfect six pack.
Unfortunately for my daughter, it seems pretty clear that she’s doomed to be a muggle, woefully lacking in the Force and, likely, trapped in the Matrix forever. She may not be the chosen one, but as far as I’m concerned, with a little hard work, she can choose to be anything she damn well pleases.
Modified feature image courtesy of United Artists