Written by Kier-La Janisse
There is no shortage of loaded – and often gendered – symbolism in the sport of cockfighting. And this becomes a starting point for author Kier-La Janisse (HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN) to investigate the themes of obsession, competition, divination and self-ascribed nobility that dominate the hyper-masculine world of Monte Hellman’s existential and controversial film, COCKFIGHTER (1974).
In this, its fifth book, Canadian micro-publisher Spectacular Optical explores the intersection of Southern Gothic, ritual masculinity and second wave feminism in COCKFIGHTER with a combination of cultural criticism and production history. The book will also examine in detail the Charles Willeford novel and the bloodsport that inspired it. While Willeford always maintained that it was a tale of obsession and not ‘about’ cockfighting, this unique sport nonetheless provides all the contradictions necessary for a great lone wolf story. And here, author Kier-La Janisse faces up against her own contradictions as she personally delves into the strange world of cockfighting in the American south.
COCKFIGHTER stars character actor Warren Oates as Frank Mansfield, a career cocker who has taken a vow of silence until he can win the Cockfighter of the Year Award. Surrounded by fellow cockfighters played by Harry Dean Stanton, Ed Begley, Jr, Steve Railsback, Richard B. Shull and even author/screenwriter Charles Willeford himself, the film traverses the underground cockfighting world of the Deep South, with a highly detailed documentation of this unique subculture brought vividly to life by esteemed cinematographer Nestor Almendros.
The book features interviews with director Monte Hellman and producer Roger Corman – who signed special edition copies of the book – as well as several other surviving cast and crew.
Author Kier-La Janisse broke new ground in film criticism with her 2012 book House of Psychotic Women: An Autobographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films, and this new monograph is also a highly personal labour of love whose appeal promises to transcend the fanbase for the film itself.
“Monte Hellman has made films he likes much better than Cockfighter,’ says Janisse, “But Cockfighter was always the one that resonated with me; primarily its emphasis on a stubborn, meticulous anti-hero who wants to be the best at something that others consider foolish at best, or barbaric at worst. At its core it is a story about work, obsession, drive, conviction and finding religion and beauty in strange places.”
Cover art by Adam Juresko at No Supervision