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JOE ESZTERHAS
F.I.S.T.


click to enlarge

Pan, London, 1978
price: 80p
352 pages


The blurb on the backs:

FIST is the federation of InterState Truckers.
FIST is the story of Johnny Kovak, whose combination of punch and persuasion took him to the top of the truckers' union ... of the wife he betrayed and the ambitions he tarnished ... and of the dangerous allies who brought him down.
FIST is a story people with characters as big and as powerful as the diesel trucks they drive, a novel shot through with savage violence and deep-etched corruption.


opening lines:
Cleveland. July 1934. At six-thirty in the morning, Joe Kovak walked through the Flats to his blast furnace at the Baldwin and Johnson steel mill. He was fifty-two years old; a hulking, heavy-footed man whose name had been Kovacs until an immigration official mis-spelled it at Ellis Island.


Before Sylvester Stallone became the ultra-prole of Reaganism and long before Joe Eszterhas began peddling misogynist eroticism to mainstream audiences, the two collaborated on this fantastic if flawed movie. The original idea, apparently, came from articles written by Eszterhas, with a screenplay by him and Stallone, though quite what Stallone's level of involvement was, I'm not sure.

In essence it's the story of legendary American labour leader, Jimmy Hoffa, a man who rose to the top of the Teamsters trade union and who seemed to regard the organization as his own private fiefdom. He was convicted in 1967 of fraud and corruption, amidst allegations of Mafia connexions, and he disappeared completely in 1975, believed to have been murdered, though no body has ever been recovered. Using this as a jumping-off point, Eszterhas creates a rebellious working-class kid who's not prepared to take any shit, but finds himself trapped in the years of the Depression in dead-end jobs and dodgy underground connexions. The seeds of his triumph and destruction are sown by the time he's eighteen, and the rest of the film essentially unravels the threads that bind him to his tragedy...

I always thought this was one of Stallone's finest roles, and a decent defence of working-class organization in the face of brutal American capitalism. It is, however, way too long at over two hours. And regrettably the book tries your patience as well. This comes over as sort of anti-mini series, a politically aware blockbuster, and to be honest it could do with chopping in half, and leaving us to fill in some details for ourselves. It also suffers from being written by someone who normally works in screenplays - there's more dialogue here than you could shake a stick at.

All of which is a shame, 'cos I'd like to recommend it to you, and I don't think I can. I have no hesitation about the film, on the other hand - it's flawed and it sprawls, but there's so much about it that's good that it comes off. The director, incidentally, was Norman Jewison, whose previous two films had been Jesus Christ Superstar and Rollerball: no typecasting for this boy.


ARTISTIC MERIT: 3/5
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE:
2/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT:
2/5


Mr Stallone also gave us:
click to enlarge
Paradise Alley

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