I have absolutely no idea how this book and its movie came back to the surface of my mind. I watched the film in 1975, I think, and I'm sure it was with Paul the film student. (He was also a drunk, and to date the only lover I've ever had that I allowed to hit me.)
Come to think on it, he's also the source of one of my most enduring pleasures, that of watching films whose books I've read or plan to read, and of making fantasy films of the books I read that haven't got films. Thanks, Paul, for growing me a spine and for giving me that deeply satisfying fantasy life. (He died in 1986, so this is more in the nature of valediction than praise.)
Anyway...I recommend the book to men because it's about us at our most male and least woman-centered. It's brutal and tough and awful. It's a clarion call to the smarter ones of us to look at what's actually going on in our heads and fucking stop it already. Not because women don't like us for what they've done to us, but because hurting ourselves is just damned stupid. The cult of macho is a male reaction to rejection and judgment, as Willeford presents it; this being what I've observed, it had me nodding along as I read the book.
Where the film falls down, I think, is in the nature of the storytelling medium. On its surface, this film's about how a man decides not to live with a woman but to sell every-damn-thing he owns and double down on the world of cockfighting. Ultimately this works out, in the sense that his cock wins the championship.
Not one single human female would watch this movie and think, "oh that was fun." The image of women in it is as emasculating damaging emotional black holes. Yeah, great date-night flick, eh what? And men come off as damnfool eedjits without a lick of sense. That both these things are true doesn't make them any easier to swallow. And on film, there are lost nuances because actors speaking lines aren't readers absorbing language use on multiple levels. So it's no wonder to me that this film tanked.
But it's a misunderstood work of art, Cockfighter is. Its darkest moments and grimmest interpretations are all true and accurate. That's intentional on Willeford's part, based on the entirety of his ouevre. (Go here to read a really, really interesting academic take on Willeford as writer and man manqué.) The levels and ideas that this brutal, cruel, emotionally stopped body of work contains are rewarding to unpick and enjoyable to contemplate.
For Y chromosome bearers.