Actor Jack Huston makes his directorial debut with the drama “The Day of the Fight,” starring Michael Pitt, in Venice’s Horizons Extra. The black and white film, set in the early 1980s, follows Mikey (Pitt) through his day as he prepares for a comeback fight at Madison Square Garden that night. But Mikey is preparing for something much bigger, as the screenplay – written by Huston – delves into his past, his relationships and all the pain, sorrow and joy they bring.
He visits his ex-wife (Nicolette Robinson), trainer (Ron Perlman), best friend (John Magaro) and, in one showstopping scene, his father (played by Joe Pesci), who’s been cut down by dementia and can’t talk or even move on his own, in a nursing home. Pesci uses only his eyes to convey emotions — arguably a bold play by a rookie filmmaker to use the famously animated actor in such a subtle way.
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“Getting Joe Pesci was, I think, single-handedly the greatest accomplishment of my life,” Huston laughs.
Huston talks about the importance of music in the film, as Mikey moves through his world lost in tunes coursing through his ever-present headphones. Huston explains that while Mikey isn’t musical, his ex-wife is a singer and his dad was a singer whose career went nowhere. “Music is a character in the picture,” he says. Plus… we hear Pesci sing in the film. “That’s Joe singing on the record Mikey plays,” adds Huston.
Huston also dug into memories of his grandmother, who suffered from dementia, for the character.
“The one thing that brought her back in the room was music,” he says. “I thought Joe, who can evoke so much without saying anything — I find it the most vulnerable, beautiful performance. I can barely watch that scene, not only because of my history, I mean, it just does so much to me, it just kills me every time. I knew that Joe was this beautiful singer, and I said, the world needs to know this.”
While the film calls back to such boxing movies as “Raging Bull” and his grandfather John Huston’s “Fat City,” Huston’s choice to shoot in black and white was an aesthetic as well as a budget decision.
“You’re making an independent film and you know you don’t have much money. But you have an incredible crew of people, be it the production designer Pete Zumba, be it our costume designer Christopher Peterson, be it the DP Pete Simonite. What we were trying to achieve — and actually black and white can be quite forgiving — gives you the sense of the period and at the same time you don’t get into as much trouble because, to put it bluntly, it’s beautiful, but it’s also cheaper.”
Huston wrote the film over 10 days during the pandemic with Pitt, whom he co-starred with in “Boardwalk Empire,” in mind, given that he admired Pitt’s talent but also, Pitt is a boxer. “He’s wondrous. He is unpredictable. He melts your heart. He breaks your heart.”
Huston faced the usual challenges, especially when it came to his leading man, who has had a history of difficulties and run-ins with the law. But Huston believed in Pitt. “The financiers and producers were saying ‘Well, we won’t make it with Michael’ and I said, ‘It’s either Michael or we don’t make the movie,’ so that’s how much I believed in him. … and also, the film’s about redemption.
“And I will always remember that first day on set where one of the producers came up to me and says, ‘I just want to stop and say well done because this film and this character wouldn’t be anything without this guy.’ I mean like on the first day, he brought something that nobody else could.”
He admits that it’s a dream come true to debut in Venice, saying that when he started out on the film, he aimed to hit the Lido.
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