By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Swell Factor
The lanky girl with the wry smile raises a bulbous red glove as the Vegas-style MC booms: “In the blue corner, weighing in at one hundred and forty pounds and with a professional record of one win and no defeats, Suswella ‘The Swell Factor’ Roberts.” This is Hollywood Fight Night at the Henry Fonda Theater, a multi-bout event promoted by celebrity work-out guru Terry Claybon.
With the crowd restricted to one side of the ring, its other three sides are speckled with sometimes eccentrically attired managers and trainers, ring girls in barely existent bikinis, corner hands and hangers-on. In two corners are cable TV cameramen, one of whom sports Rastafarian-style headgear of Marge Simpson heights, effectively blocking the action from certain angles.
Between the brawling, ring girls strut with hand-Sharpied round cards and similarly (un)dressed dancers shimmy in the elevated alcoves flanking the ring. Unbeaten up-and-coming warriors face off against wily journeymen from all over the country, making a few hundred dollars for their efforts in front of a chiefly African-American and Latino crowd of undulating enthusiasm. A big screen behind the ring advertises Claybon’s keep-fit videos.
The previous afternoon a relaxed Suswella Roberts drapes herself into a deep sofa on the Fonda’s mezzanine. She speaks passionately, making unflinching eye contact. Though pretty and leggy with almost contagious charisma, she bemoans her lack of dates. “Guys say ‘I would never date her, because if things didn’t work out she’d beat me up.’” She doesn’t deny it.
The college-educated Roberts is a promoter’s dream: Vivacious and charming out of the ring, tomboyish and relentless in it, she’s permanently prepped to have her picture taken, her quotes recorded, to press the flesh and gently flirt. She’s a walking advertisement for her assertion that female boxers won’t remain undercard novelties for long. She works in a Hollywood convenience store to make ends meet.
Her fighter’s disposition revealed itself early: “It started at elementary school — I was a bit of a troubled child and they would isolate me, they’d put me in a room on my own . . . and being alone is just like being in the boxing ring: you’re alone, and really you’re not fighting your opponent, you’re fighting yourself.”
At her weigh-in, Roberts’ cartoon, lipsticked smile never wanes. She goes eye-to-eye with her opponent, a reserved, corn-rowed girl from San Jose called Danille Chirtensen, turning her body three-quarters on to the cameras, instinctively making herself shootable, saleable. But once she’s in the ring the following night, it’s all about fighting.
Chirtensen, making her debut, is overwhelmed by the rangy Roberts’ mechanical left/right barrage from the get-go. Bell-to-bell, Roberts — her normally electric ’fro tamed back, her gaze hole-boring — advances against her increasingly red-faced opponent. The crowd warms accordingly, a crescendo of appreciation building until Chirtensen (though almost propped up by Roberts’ blizzard of punches) is declared knocked out midway through the third of a scheduled four rounds. The music throbs, lights swivel, dancers gyrate, and Roberts is 2-0.
During the following bout, Darius Watson and Preston Tony Kenney prance purposefully around the ring for six rounds but barely touch one another. The crowd boos and then yells, “Bring back the girls!”
Gloomy Sunday Never Ends
The older Hungarian woman and her adult children ask me to snap their picture with the most famous person in the room, the young Hungarian actor Erika Marozsan. I’m waiting patiently for the crowd of well-wishing seniors (and a local film critic who’s peddling a script to Marozsan) to clear out of the lobby of Laemmle’s Music Hall — I’d like to get in two quick questions myself — so I really have nothing better to do than oblige the photo-op request.
Marozsan isn’t here for a movie premiere. Gloomy Sunday, the German-language romantic drama in which she stars, opened in 2003 to generally favorable reviews from U.S. critics and closed months ago in most of the major markets where it’s been shown. But the film is still going strong in its 46th week in Los Angeles. Marozsan has come to town to participate in several weekend Q&A sessions. And as with other events like this, the inquiries from this mostly packed house of the graying are less questions than they are opportunities to feel close to a movie star. No one, it seems, no matter what his or her age, is immune from the hypnotic power of celebrity, even a celebrity who’s a virtual unknown outside Eastern Europe. There are glowing moments of praise (“You’re not only beautiful, but a great actress!”), testimonials from repeat viewers (“It’s even better the third time!”), demands to have ambiguous plot points from the film explained, and — after the official questioning has ended — private queries spilling out in rushing torrents of Hungarian and bold requests to take the talent to dinner later.
The plot of the movie inspiring this minor-scale mania is a strange one: A beautiful young restaurant hostess in World War II–era Budapest named Ilona (Marozsan) falls into a ménage à trois with two men, one of whom happens to compose “Gloomy Sunday,” the legendary suicide-induction ballad. A third man, a Nazi, wants her too, and will go to great and treacherous lengths to sleep with her just once. As with most wartime movie romances, tragedy is right around the corner, not only due to Nazi domination, but also, the film asserts, from the relentless death-pull of the cursed song (played a stunning 13 times during the film’s 105 minutes). And without spoiling the ending, a certain amount of postwar wish fulfillment comes into play in a plot twist that left the audience applauding. In that way, the film functions like a morose Life Is Beautiful, if Roberto Benigni’s movie had included a three-way make-out scene.