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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Muay Noir: Where Muay Thai Photography and Film Noir Meet

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I'm opening up a thread here to do some note taking and possible discussion on what I've termed Muay Noir, which is the engagement of Muay Thai photography, probably most explicitly Thailand Muay Thai photography (but I'm not sure), with the Film Noir aesthetic. My own photography has been heading in this direction (see some of that here: muaynoir.com), and it feels like the same direction is being taken up successfully by others in the field, enough to think that something very creative and important is going on here. There is an affinity between the Thailand Muay Thai subject matter, and the Film Nor, and neo-Noir aesthetics. This is some of my exploration of that, inviting others to think through this too.

Reading a few essays on Film Noir this boils down some of the core elements of the genre, at least in the classic sense:

Noir Universe
 
existential crisis
 
self-destructive compulsion
 
alienation
 
feminine betrayal 
 
sexual thrills cost
 
fated endings
 
universe of moral ambiguity
 
good intentions produce bad results
 
or, from the famous 1955 essay "Towards a Definition of Film Noir" by French critics Borde and Chaumeton, 5 adjectives:
“oneiric, weird, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel”
 
 
Noir Aesthetics
 
low-key lighting
 
claustrophobic framing
 
shadows and reflections
 
unbalanced composition
 
great depth of field

more on Film Noir aesthetics written on here.

Some of my photos that have me thinking in this direction:

Arjan Not MMA.jpg

 

Sawsing Swagger.jpg

 

up.jpg

 

Sawsing Looking Up at her Husband.jpg

 

Fight 238 tipping point.jpg

 

Bank and Dieselnoi intense-2.jpg

 

Is there a fundamental concepts of alienation, a morally ambiguous universe, the role of the feminine (as betrayal or lure), the isolation of the subject aesthetically (use of lighting, composition), the psychologicalization of the subject (how faces and expressions seem to amplify in these aesthetics (thank you Instagram commenter, I've forgotten your name but not your excellent point!); and also the nostalgia brought on by the form, the old-timey, Old Hollywood theatricality (the throwback Noir film Raging Bull was mentioned by Dana Hoey in the context of this photo of mine), the rich sense of heroic, or articulate protagonist storymaking, how does this all fold together in creating both an artifice and a truth-telling?

What does it mean to photograph the Muay Thai of Thailand as any of these things:

“oneiric, weird, erotic, ambivalent, or cruel”

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To any sense of nostalgia - a return to the 1950s, which does have parallels in Thailand in that much or some of the country does feel anchored in a conservative or traditional past - must also be added the influence of what is often called Tech Noir, which could be oversimplified as "everything that flowed from Blade Runner". The unique and beautiful way that cyberpunk, Japanese anime futures and overall alien-ness became grounded in a backwards facing Noir world. Yes, replicants are running about, but a 1950s gumshoe detective is on the case.

Blade Runner noir.jpg

 

IMG_0800-550x227.png

 

t-Blade-Runner-1982.jpg

 

The combination of the future alienation, and throw-back aesthetics has a deep and satisfying history in our culture, and there is a sort of sci-fi, Blade Runner experience to many ex-pat realities in Thailand, though these seem quite far from Muay Thai depictions which already turn back up on the real. The Real. But, there is in that Tech Noir history a powerful sense of figure depiction that could play a role in what we could be looking for in Muay Noir meanings. I recent read through the Japanese manga Battle Angel Alita (1993) and its connective books, and was terribly struck by the force of its action depictions, the cleanliness of the lines (Noir contains excessive contrast, purifying the subject) as well as the emotionality of its characters while in action. It is a Tech Noir work of art.

 

Alita 71.PNG

 

Alita 22.PNG

 

Alita 33.PNG

 

Alita 14.PNG

Alita 1.PNG

btw, you can buy the digital version of the Alita manga here, highly recommended. The Guided View, cell-by-cell presentation is very cinematic

The possibilities of Muay Noir seem to reside in the confluence of these two aesthetic traditions. There is the classic evocation of Film Noir, with it's Raging Bull-like call back to a time of clarity and figure bas-relief, perhaps set against a morally ambiguous Universe, and there is the Tech Noir negotiation with the future itself, and the entire history of action depictions in manga and anime, with explicit action captures through bold lines/outlines, and intensified character states. Between these two shores: the evocation of the very old and classic, and the hypermodernity of the figure alone in space, lies the territory of Muay Noir, perhaps.

 

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Maybe it would be safe to say that what binds Classic Noir and Tech Noir is the morally ambiguous Universe (no clear heading or outcome (criminal underworld or the presence of evil in the former, the uncertain future and impact on technology in the later), AND the aesthetically/spatially isolated hero, or anti-hero, in such a universe, with an amplified focus on that tension. What does it mean for that matrix to be placed upon the Muay Thai of Thailand? The fighter in Thailand is a form of hyper-masculinity (for Thais: read Sylvie's Thai Masculinity: Postioning Nak Muay Between Monkhood and Nak Leng – Peter Vail.The fighter falls between the monk and the gangster. You can see this summation graphic:

The-qualities-of-Monk-and-Nak-Leng-in-Nak-Muay.png

bogart.jpg

 

Bogart-and-Cagney-header.jpg

One can see how this positioning sits well within the Classic Film Noir framework. The ideological worlds overlap in several ways with the protagonists of Noir. The hyper-masculinity fits the Thai concept of the fighter. For westerners, who enjoy a kind of exoticization of Thai culture, or maybe even more importantly, a Blade Runner quality of experience in tourist center cities, one can see where Tech Noir elements comfortably might work to express, or negotiate that truth. We have a hyper-masculinity portrayed in a classic way, along with the accompanying alienation and allure of futuristic possibilities.

bladerunner_1982_471-h_2016.jpg

Blade Runner Noir 2.jpg

At bottom it feels like we have an alienating, or at least delineating, morally ambiguous universe, supporting a hyper-masculinized protagonist narrative...a moral character cut out of space.

 

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The Ambiguity of the Female in Noir

There is an obvious connection point between Classic Film Noir and Tech Noir, in the figure of the female or the feminine. Classically, the Noir hero is threatened by the lure of the femme fatale, whose powers of attraction are magical ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") and deadly. The femme fatale is a figure whose motives cannot be discerned, a character who operates by its own devices. This is modernized, or hyper-modernized in the figure of the fem-bot, an often highly sexualized version of femininity, who has powers that cannot be properly judged or anticipated, who operates with hidden motives and capabilities that cannot be resisted. They are one and the same figure brought forth in the two genres. The woman is "danger".

This Muay Noir photowork by Emma Thomas really strikes me as powerful for any number of reasons, but first and foremost of which is how it captures the classic femme fatale sexuality in the context of training, without displacing it. She's mentioned to me that my own photography probably influenced her edits.

the femme fatal in Muay Noir.jpg

There is a world of moral difficulty whenever inserting female sexuality in the male-coded Thai kaimuay, layers and threads everywhere. The traditional and the modernist projects collide, but this photo (go to the original posting here), for me, opens the door to the feminine figure that is buried in any Muay Noir juxtaposition. As a matter of sketching out the meaningful possibilities, what is the correlate to the female Noir figure in fighting? Who is the unpredictable, alluring, threatening, dangerous, surprisingly powerful, hyper-embodied "Other"? Clearly, the opponent. The feminine Other in fighting is all of the indiscernible, indecipherable qualities of your opponent. The cleanliness of technique, the unexpected powers, or motives, intentions, can rise to the android (mechanism / drives) in any of us. The automaton, is ultimately the thing that operates according it it's own laws [auto (self) nomy (law)]. Fighting, it might be argued, is the art of imposing your own law (rhythm, spacing, tempo), on the other. A completely, hermetically autonomous opponent would be, by logic, undefeatable (one of the fears of AI).

blade runner femme fatale.jpg   

Note: One of the most brilliant and subversive structural changes in the Tech Noir cannon is found in the Alita manga, where the subjective development of personhood unfolds in the figure of the female "bot", the locus of the usual projection of fantasy and fear. She starts out being given the literal body of a sex-worker (being discovered on a scrap heap, bodyless) by transplant, and passes through various bodies as vehicles and incarnations.

This isn't to say that the figure of the female, if any, is found in a possible Muay Noir, necessarily. But it at least opens up that space for possible interpretation or inspiration. With my own subject matter including female Muay Thai, I find that within Muay Noir, and female fighter depictions there does lie the possibilities for syntheses or resolutions. For instance, as Dana Hoey hinted toward, there is something transcendent or transmuting about this photograph of the Thai female yodmuay Sawsing Sor. Sopit, between rounds, when put in the context of the femme or most Noir:

Sawsing Shaking.jpg

It strikes me as a possible amalgam of the classic Noir pairing of the detective (fighter) and the girl (lure), the Brute and the Beauty:

Brute Beauty.PNG

 

 

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Test Case

Sagat's Fists HD.jpg

This photo is perhaps the most "Noir" photo of all that I've taken, maybe in the sense of just it's purity of elements, its closely hewn simplicity of subject and aesthetic.

Now, as an experiment contemplate these fists in the context of the proposed Noir Universe:

existential crisis
 
self-destructive compulsion
 
alienation
 
feminine betrayal 
 
sexual thrills cost
 
fated endings
 
universe of moral ambiguity
 
good intentions produce bad results
 
Notice how the depiction of the fists fits within a moral/ethical direction. The hero/anti-hero is there, isolated in the moral ambiguity, the hyper-masculinity floating the black, delineated by the light. We can play all sorts of games of projecting values or moral interest onto images, and perhaps at many times they will stick, but the rough conceptual framework of Muay Noir, in terms of Noir Theory, does fit seamlessly with the work.
 

btw, I should note you can purchase prints of this photo here (with 50% of the profit going to Sagat, a legendary Muay Thai fighter of the Golden Age).

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4 minutes ago, WaltZinkPhotography said:

 

IMG_9400-2.jpg

Especially that 2nd one, which is one of my favorite photos of yours for me. I've commented before how that metal riveting and the texture of his face create such an amazing rhyme. I also find it interesting that Classic Noir used great depth of field, but neo-Noir uses shallow depth of field (often) to further enhance the separation (alienation?) of the subject. Your is a perfect example of that isolation.

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Thank you! It's amongst my favorites, also. I find it important to make sure I have a second camera with a long lens to capture the corner shots. Then there's this one from Pattaya. I genuinely have a sense of dumb luck to get a photo like this. 

Next will be my portrait series in the Everest region in Nepal to highlight the people in that area. That could definitely go into its own noir setting. It'lll be fun to play with.

pattaya.jpg

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14 minutes ago, WaltZinkPhotography said:

Thank you! It's amongst my favorites, also. I find it important to make sure I have a second camera with a long lens to capture the corner shots. Then there's this one from Pattaya. I genuinely have a sense of dumb luck to get a photo like this. 

Next will be my portrait series in the Everest region in Nepal to highlight the people in that area. That could definitely go into its own noir setting. It'lll be fun to play with.

pattaya.jpg

So beautifully Noir. Figure isolated in a morally ambiguous environment, illuminated. Also, so Blade Runneresque. Love.

 

Blade Runner Noir photography.jpg

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Dana Hoey, an artist who I've had some preliminary discussion with before posting this, added this great comment on the possibilities of Muay Noir, bringing up Hong Kong Noir which is also a powerful inspiration source.

performativity.PNG

If I'm not mistaken, the glorification of the hitman (maybe apexing with Meville's Le Samouraï) had a significant impact on the cultural figure of the Nakleng (gangster) in Thai culture, as cited in the Peter Vail article above (nakbun). Hong Kong cinema has exactly the quotational aspect of the hyper-cool. That's a super important point in the Muay Thai of Thailand. There is always the sense that masculinity is being performed, and that the qualities are being embodied and acted out. In the history of Noir, from Bogart on, masculinity is stylized. I think that makes another good argument why the stylization of Noir photography fits with Muay Thai portrayals. It encases stylization withing stylization, making it at home. Does Noir complicate, or produce an inordinate layer between the viewer and the Muay Thai subject? Or, does it act as a prism to clarify and focus the eye on those effort at "cool".

I remember listening to Karuhat Sor. Supawan, a legend of the Golden Age, and a fighter who embodied cool, talk with Chatchai Sasakul, a WBC Champion, and also a fighter of the Golden Age. He was complaining that the Thai fighters of today no longer have charisma. Charisma was an essential component of the great fighting portrayals of the 1990s in Thailand. For him, and Chatchai who agreed, it simply was missing from contemporary Thai fighting. So, in some sense, as we add the Noir layer to Muay Thai photography we may be capturing the last bit of starlight, a vital aspect of the art, that already has dimmed in Time.

 

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There is the pragmatic element of shooting fighting at all, which is that its usually low lighting with no flash allowed - that kind of begs for noir!  I am not all that experienced with fight photography and I really enjoy yours, Kevin, and Walt yours too.  The coolness factor is interesting (this is a general remark so pardon me for not quoting); it is interesting how it dovetails with hyper-elegant masculinity.  In Woo films, the love story between Chow Yun Fat and his criminal adversary is this kind of elite level of masculinity, where one is not afraid to be "feminine" (big quotes there), insofar is one has love for another man.  Most fighting exhibits that kind of dark love between opponents that the layperson does not understand, seeing only aggression unless they actually pay attention to the hug afterwards if it occurs.  Sorry if I am going off-piste, but curious to read more about the coolness and charisma factor; is there a way to understand it as partially "female"?  Does pink (e.g. pink shorts) have a feminine association in Thailand so that wearing pink gear exhibits the highest level of masculinity in taking the risk of being feminine?  Love that Karuhat and Chatchai both mention it - both are remarkable stars.  And what is charisma but a sense of one's own iconic nature?  To be photogenic, to be glowing so that you never escape peoples' eyes or memories...  this is quintessentially noir by your definition although there are other sorts of lines of thinking (beauty for one) that threaten to crowd into the discourse.  

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In a bizarre bit of Noir crossing, before director Martin Scorsese had produced his first hit, he approached Philip K. Dick for the rights to his Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, a year after it was published. Raging Bull would be made in 1980, Blade Runner in 1982. source

a bit of noir.PNG

Was he seeing Dick's work as a Noir film back in 1969? Godard had made the ground breaking Noir sci-fi film Alphaville in 1965. Trailer below:

 

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3 hours ago, threeoaks said:

Sorry if I am going off-piste, but curious to read more about the coolness and charisma factor; is there a way to understand it as partially "female"? 

Pink is definitely not a female color, at least not traditionally in the sense that we read it, boy/girl, but maybe it has some sense of flair. The Muay Femeu panache of elite starts like Samart, Karuhat and other very artful type fighters does carry with it I think some sense of the feminine, but maybe in the way that the artist, or the aristocrat has feminine overtones. With some elements of hyper-masculinity you can get transgressions into the feminine, for instance Hair Metal rock bands with scarves and mascara. I think the sense is that "I have so much masculinity, I have plenty to spare, and I'm not emasculated by these markers. The great, artful Muay Femeu masters of the age had something of that, like the singer or the movie star (as Samart was all 3). But, I'm not sure how much of that fits into Noir. I mean, Bogart definitely is counter-punctual to femininity in almost every way. Maybe as Noir became quotational we get closer to concepts of "cool" and its enactment, which then brings us more in the real of actress, pushed to the extreme maybe the masculinity of K-Pop boy bands?

John Woo's intimacy between men, maybe there is something subversive to the Classic Noir structure, the way that opponents mirror and complete each other. It maybe partakes in that same sense that I had that the "opponent" holds the role of the femme fatale in the Noir universe. The alluring, and destructive other.

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3 hours ago, threeoaks said:

There is the pragmatic element of shooting fighting at all, which is that its usually low lighting with no flash allowed - that kind of begs for noir! 

I agree, the lighting sometimes provides great contrast and figure cut-outs. Plus some of the images we have inherited from boxing's past have that same figure cut-out that feels very Noir.  Again, we have the hero, cut out/off from the world, illuminated by light.

Film Noir Boxing Ali.jpg

 

Cut out Noir.jpg

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Rembrandt Light and the Metaphysics of Plotinus

At least for me personally, there is an even historically older influence in the selection of Film Noir aesthetics, and even their root of German Expressionist film, and that is the very light directed painting of the Renaissance, maybe most typified by Rembrandt:

 

Rembradt Noir lighting.jpg

 

And then in one of the most terribly beautiful paintings ever, Velazquez:

velasquez noir.jpg

Juan de Pareja (1606–1670) 1650

 

Fpr me, what is exquisite about these depictions is that the characters themselves do not contain their own light. It is as if, and in many paintings of this style, the light plucks them out from the darkness. The luminosity gives liberty or Being. This parallels the philosophy of the neo-Platonist Plotinus, who influenced the Philosophy of the day. It was Plotinus's argument that a thing only had Being (substance, reality) to the degree that it caught the light. The "light" was the illumination of the One, which shined on all things, and brought all things into Being. Not to get very esoteric, but the notion is that catching more of the light gave you substance. Turning into Being, gave you more reality. This framework is what I see in this form of lighting figures. You find this sort of theory more dynamically expressed in the 17th century philosopher Spinoza. 

This is where it gets more interesting, for me. Homeric descriptions, especially in the Iliad, had a somewhat Noir-ish capacity to cut-out figures of action in the world. The heroes of the epics were often reduced, or captured in the very actionability of their selves. They gained a certain reality through their ability to act. When they acted heroically this sometimes would be reflected in descriptions of their shine, their radiance, which in some sense communicated that they were catching or showing a bit of their divinity. The glinting of their selves. I think in this sense the western heroic epic holds the philosophy of Plotinus's glinting of Being (theorized centuries later). The warrior "catching light", and in that sense rising above the mortal and the mundane. I believe in some way Noir aesthetic captures of fighters, or Muay Thai, even as they partake in the aesthetics that derive from Rembrandt, communicates this transmutation, and Plontinus' argument that the more light you catch, the greater Being you have. In Homer, the hope of heroes was not only to "win", but to be sung by poets (thereby gaining a kind of immortality), catching more light in a sense. There is also the Spinozist expansion of Plotinus which is that the greater your ability to act, to move, dimensionally, the greater Being (or Reality) you had. In some ways the fighter, in the ring, is acting out some of the most primordial and essential metaphysical acts, and you could argue that a light and shadow dominant aesthetic like Noir is ideal for capturing and expressing that.

I'm thinking something of these things for instance, in photos like this, where you can see the coming into Being, catching more "light" becoming extracted from the darkness.

Dieselnoi.jpg

 

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Noir Boxing References

Looking at these early examples reminds us how far the genre has drifted. These are stark, simple depictions, almost atomic, and the cynicism comes through in an almost bold, ontological way. Far from the cult of cool, instead an unnerving, existential situation.

Boxing sequence from Stanley Kubrick's Film Noir Killer's Kiss (1955)

An increasing disorientation of angels and movement.

 

The Set Up (1949)

opening sequence:

pre-fight

 

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This is really beautiful, so many of these frames inspire me. A video essay on French Film Noir, written about here.

Some elements of French noir we recognise retrospectively, looking back (as it were) from vantage point of the later, almost over-adored American version: fatalism, doomed lovers, a melancholic portrait of city life and a visual style that borrows and develops lighting effects and camera angles from German Expressionist cinema.

But other elements strike us as being very different from Noir USA: the emphasis on everyday life and labour; a sharper analysis of fraught racial and cultural relations, even within the most exotic Kasbah; an earthier, sometimes infinitely more perverse sexuality; and a refusal of last-minute, happy-ending resolutions.

 

 

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A segment on Plotinus and light, from the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, setting up a possible metaphysics of photography, and perhaps a Noir foundation. Noir as immanence. 

Why does Being complicate all beings? Because each being explicates Being. There will be a linguistic doublet here: complicate, explicate…

…Why? Because this was undoubtedly the most dangerous theme. Treating God as an emanative cause can fit because there is still the distinction between cause and effect. But as immanent cause, such that we no longer know very well how to distinguish cause and effect, that is to say treating God and the creature the same, that becomes much more difficult. Immanence was above all danger. So much so that the idea of an immanent cause appears constantly in the history of philosophy, but as [something] held in check, kept at such-and-such a level of the sequence, not having value, and faced with being corrected by other moments of the sequence and the accusation of immanentism was, for every story of heresies, the fundamental accusation: you confuse God and the creature. That’s the fatal accusation. Therefore the immanent cause was constantly there, but it didn’t manage to gain a status [statut]. It had only a small place in the sequence of concepts.
Spinoza arrives…

…It’s with Plotinus that a pure optical world begins in philosophy. Idealities will no longer be only optical. They will be luminous, without any tactile reference. Henceforth the limit is of a completely different nature. Light scours the shadows. Does shadow form part of light? Yes, it forms a part of light and you will have a light-shadow gradation that will develop space. They are in the process of finding that deeper than space there is spatialization. Plato didn’t know [savait] of that. If you read Plato’s texts on light, like the end of book six of the Republic, and set it next to Plotinus ‘s texts, you see that several centuries had to pass between one text and the other. These nuances are necessary. It’s no longer the same world. You know [savez] it for certain before knowing why, that the manner in which Plotinus extracts the texts from Plato develops for himself a theme of pure light. This could not be so in Plato. Once again, Plato’s world was not an optical world but a tactile-optical world. The discovery of a pure light, of the sufficiency of light to constitute a world implies that, beneath space, one has discovered spatialization. This is not a Platonic idea, not even in the Timeus. - rabbit hole here

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Another photo edit by Emma (origin)

Emma Noir.jpg

There is something revolutionized about a woman working on her own image, within the Noir framework which contains a history of the spectral projection of the femme. This edit contains the reversal of the contradiction in gender, autopoetically generated. Does it mean something different for a woman to be working in Noir, in the sense that they are more working IN the constructed Looking Glass to a greater degree, and therefore able to subvert or synthesize it?

 

 

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Sylvie said something interesting the other day, about my Muay Noir photography. Something along the lines of, Muay Thai photography has too long been focused on the action, but you focus on the stillness.

There is maybe something about the use of shadows that produces a pervading sense of stillness, and this use of dark maybe is another thing that make Noir a compelling vehicle for Muay Thai photography. It allows us to open up the moment more, to catch the glimmer of immanence. or the foundation of a quality, or a relation. I think there is something too this. Shadows can slow things down. Non-being creates a bath of calm and rest. Of course shadows can also be used to produce tension and drama, a sense of dread (the father of Film Noir, German Expressionism), but for me they work in the other direction. The provide the conditions for a certain emerging, a revelation. Or perhaps a stage setting.

The Work.jpg

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A personal influence, which for me touches on some of my Muay Noir project are the frames of the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who often is Noir-ish, or German Expression-ish. If not familiar, here is a video montage of many of his films. I'm not completely sure what Tarkovsky has to say about Noir, but he does oscillate between the dark and contrasted, and also sci-fi subjects, working around tradition.

 

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This photo shot by lordk2 I think was a huge inspiration on me, and maybe says a lot about what Muay Noir can be. lordk2 shoots a lot in black and white, but his work really has lost me (our aesthetics diverge maybe). I really adored his much earilier Sumo wrestling series, some of the most beautiful photography of athletes I've seen. This photo is special. It contains I think to very compelling elements of what Noir photography can bring: Psychology and Structure. And I think this photo really propelled me in my own direction. I think it's important to ask what the difference between just turning a photo black and white, and bumping contrast and creating a Noir frame or exploration. I think it has to do with focus, the nature of focus, maybe. In any case this is a seminal photo. It's Sylvie fighting for a WMC world title maybe 3 weight classes up, with two incredible legends in her corner, Dieselnoi and Karuhat.

Sylvie von Duuglas-Ittu Lord 2K - Muay Noir.jpg

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I think a recurring, and perhaps substantive element of Film Noir is captured in the phrase:

A stranger in a strange land.

(Heinlein's title, but not the book, only the phrase.)

There's often a disjunction in Noir photography (when it's not quotational), like being out of Time, or out of Space. You can't say that definitively that this is a requirement, but is an important thread.

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On the history of Noir. In this essay on the Noir found in the 1955 film Night of the Hunter, it is argued that while Americans may have created the classic Film Noir genre (preceded in time by the French), it was the French who created the concept in regard to those American films. Post World War 2 French audiences suddenly were exposed - after a 5 year absence - to triple billed films in theaters, drawing together their similarities. In this way it was from the start a kind of meta-genre. Derived from German Expressionist influences, born of post-war American social critique, and then recognized and theorized by French audiences.

Film Noir critics.PNG

 

on an alternate reading of the same history, "Paint it Black: The Family Tree of Film Noir"

Film Noir as social dark.PNG

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    • Great Step Taken. I would always admire Lumpinee as an inspiration!!!
    • I wanted to comment on this theme of MMA in regards also to what Kevin said on your last Muay-Thai Bones Podcast ep 26. Kevin spoke that he felt a red line had been crossed by allowing MMA in Lumpinee. He said He didnt want inferior MMA being shown there as one reason. He spoke of the inferior MMA of One Championship as compared to the UFC. Though the pool of fighters in One is smaller, it has for instance Team Lakay from the Philippines, and the Lee family of Hawaii:  Angela, Christian and now Victoria who could be champions in the UFC too, The UFC is best at exploiting and ruining the lives of its fighters who are subject to terrible contracts and endless bullying by this massive corporation.  Thank God One Championship exists, and many thanks to Chatri Sidyodtong for bringing Muay-Thai and Kickboxing into the program in 2018. The real problem of having MMA in Lumpinee is the problem of MMA itself. MMA usurped MuayThai years ago as the premier fighting art. In the early 90s when they had the first cage fights, it was also a contest of which style would prevail. Unfortunately BJJ 🤢 was the winner in those early years. Muay-Thai was only useful in standup, and striking could only prevail on the feet. If the fight went to the ground grapplers would prevail. Wrestlers, judokas jui jitsu, and sambo fighters could easily take down a stand-up fighter and submit or choke him out.  A third point which makes MMA the most attractive art is the streetfighting aspect which makes it more "realistic" to the bored average Western viewer. So MuayThai is seen as only one part, -and a less important aspect of MMA😢. What I am getting at basically is that from a Muay-Thai standpoint it would be better if MMA:                                         A) Never existed, or                                         B) Would just go away!😈
    • Seeing the Ungendered Body As Lines of Force quoting to begin... The above are the concluding thoughts of the excellent short article: Fight like a girl! An investigation into female martial practices in European Fight Books from the 14th to the 20th century by Daniel Jaquet. It presents in brief the basis of a coherent argument that though there are physiological differences between the sexes, distributed over a population, martial arts are about developing the advantages you can have that overcome any physical differences that might weigh against you. I present this argument about Muay Thai and women more at length in: The “Natural” Inferiority of Women and The Art of Muay Thai. Just as shorter fighters can fight (and beat) taller fighters, smaller fighters can beat heavier fighters and slower fighters can beat faster fighters, whatever projected or real physiological differences between women and men there may be, they can be overcome. That is the entire point of a fighting art, especially any art stemming from combat contexts. Interestingly enough, Daniel Jaquet actually points to modern "institutional competition" as over-informing the way we think about the capacities of a fighting female. We think in terms of classified differences (weight classes, and even rulesets, etc), and one of these classifications is simply gender. Fight Like a Girl.pdf The article documents a conspicuous absence of women regarded as (possibly) equal combatants for nearly 700 years in combat literature, as gender became more codified in the European tradition. Jaquet marks a foothold in the timeline with this sword and shield technical manual in 1305 (Liber de arte dimicatoria), one of the last documentations of an assumed and illustrated gendered equivalence, at least for purposes of instruction.     There is a great deal to think about in this topic at large, but here I'm most interested in the effects modernization, or rationalization of a fighting art can lead to ideas of gender equality, under fighting arts. And some of the ways modernization can push against it was well. Jaquet's finishing remarks (above) speak to this basic, rationalizing idea. Bodies are all different, they are all capable of differing physical actions, amounts of force being applied, speed of reaction times, etc. It follows, just as physical weaponry like swords or shields are force amplifiers, so too are the analogical "weapons and shields" (techniques) when practiced in a fighting art. If you know how to throw (or slip) a punch, you are within a force amplifier. The rationalization of fighting arts is a modernizing concept of extracting aspects of a traditional process of embodied knowledge practice, and classifying it, for pedagogic reasons, analysis, or commercial use. Seeing gendered bodies as force equations is rationalization. If you follow my writings you know that I have a great deal of hesitance regarding the eroding forces involved in the rationalization of fighting arts, both in terms of teaching and commercial performance (we can lose valuable and hidden habitus as we re-contextualize practices), but this does not mean that I wholesale resist rationalization/modernization. Instead it can act as a scissor, weaving and unweaving as it goes. As Jaquet points out, modernization itself also brings forth conventions which can regard important, liberating rationalizations of a fighting art. How Rationalized Jui-jitsu Changed the Early 20th Century Fight World What I'm really interested in is something that Jaquet does not pursue, and it's something that I have only touched on in my reading. What follows therefore is going to be only a broad sketch of intuitions that would be interesting areas of study. I was particularly struck by this 1905 photo included in his article: And the note tells us, this is the Duchess of Bedford training in Jiu-jitsu in England. I have not dug deeply into the history of Jiu-jitsu's immigration to England through Japanese masters, as well as other countries all over the world, but I assume this is part of a powerful rationalization impulse found in Japanese martial arts, much of it typified by Kanō Jigorō and his invention of Judo. Influenced by Western ideas of rational education and theories of utilitarianism Kano had the dream of modernizing traditional Jiu-jitsu along educational and health lines, and spreading this modernized version all over the world, eventually making it an Olympic sport. Judo and other forms of modern-leaning Jiu-jitsu spread internationally at this time, and the Duchess of Bedford's Jiu-jitsu no doubt was a part of this diaspora of the fighting art. Famously, it reached all the way down to Brazil, eventually becoming today's Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, but at this time it it also reached Siam (Thailand). King Vajiravudh of Siam (reign 1910-1925) was actually raised and educated in England in his youth and young adulthood, for nearly a decade before taking the throne. He brought with him not only an appreciation for British Boxing (which would deeply shape the development of Siam's Muay Thai), but also, one might expect, Judo/Jiu-jitsu which had growing presence in Britain. In 1907, two years after the photo of Mary Russell the Japanese community in Bangkok is recorded as teaching Jui-jitsu, in 1912 Prince Wabulya returns from study abroad in London having learned Judo, and teaches it to enthusiasts and in 1919 Judo is taught at the very important Suan Kulap College, along side British Boxing and the newly named "Muay Thai". It is enough to say that the modernization of Muay Boran into Muay Thai in the 1920s, in the image of Western Boxing (at the time Siam is making efforts to appear civilized in the eyes of the West), was part of an even larger, in fact world wide rationalization effort lead by Judo/Jui-jitsu. When we see this photo of Mary Russell in England, this is part of the one-and-the-same British movements of influence that created modern Muay Thai over the next decades (gloved, weight class, fixed stadium, rounds). Rationalization is happening. Notably, this unfolds it is in the context of King Chulalonkorn's previous religious reformation of Siam which would have lasting impact on the seats of Siam's Muay Thai, moving it away from temple teachings and magical practices. Siam is becoming a modern Nation, and the reformation of Buddhism (along with Muay Thai) is a significant part of that process: from The Modernization of Muay Thai – A Timeline   Returning to the rationalizing efforts of British Jui-jitsu which will almost necessarily un-moor rooted gender bias, with even political consequences. As Jaquet writes, the medical/physical perspective of empowerment and health ended up expressing itself in the Suffragettes Self-Defense Club, to aid in physical confrontations with police:   Now, this certainly was not happening in Siam. In fact Siam/Thailand was busy "civilizing" itself in the eyes of the West by importing the strong Victorian views of powerful visual differences between genders. Modes of dress, differentiating the sexes, were even at one point legally mandated by the government in coming decades. What we today read as quintessentially "Thai" traditional attitudes towards the differences between the sexes though complex is actually, perhaps best explained as a Western value and practice importation during the first half of the 20th century. The visual differentiation of the sexes in dress: Thai cultural mandate #10 (1941): Polite international-style attire   Civilizing the Savage and Savagizing the Civil What I'm interested in is the connection between the early 20th century rationalization/modernization of Jui-Juitsu in Britain, and today's rationalization-modernization of Muay Thai in Thailand. The schism between Thailand and Britain in terms of gender, under the guise of "civilization" recently and long last was symbolically bridged when women were finally integrated into Lumpinee Stadium promotion: The First Female Fight In Lumpinee Stadium Breaking the Prohibition. Note: the strong division between the genders of the late 1930s and 1940s in the "international-style" of work and dress is also in the context of the construction of Rajadamnern Stadium (1945) and Lumpinee Stadium (1956) under Thai fascism and Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Prime Minister    1938-1944 and 1948-1957). It is unknown what gendered Muay Thai practices may have developed without this heritage of an imitation of the West. As an contemporary outsider we tend to assume these "traditional" gendered differences as purely and essentially "Thai" and not a product of Western example or influence. Seeing these two photos, well over 100 years apart, in relationship to each other under the view of Internationalized Rationalization of fighting arts is fecund to examination. There is no clean line that leads between rationalization of the art and sport and the equality of the genders. Importantly, and not without irony, when King Vajiravudh modernized Muay Boran in imitation of British Boxing he was attempting to purge Siam and its fighting art of the impression of savageness. Contestants did die in the ring (probably quite rarely) with rope-bound hands, but more importantly the use of feet and elbows and probably much more of Siamese fighting was seen as primitive by British report. Codifying Muay Thai was no simple desire to just imitate the West as superior, as the West used the motive of civilizing "primitive" people to justify the colonization of peoples, including all the countries in Siam's orbit. No doubt King Vajiravudh had adopted many British aesthetics during his decade in British schooling, but there also something prophylactic to the transformation of Muay Thai before the eyes in the West. Now though, Thailand is bending its fighting art to the Internationalist tastes of greater violence, more aggression, as part of a vision that is pushing it to join what might be seen as a globalized Combat Sports Industrial Complex, battling for eyeballs. And, as I say ironically enough, with this comes the rising commercial viability of women seen as equals. As Lumpinee Stadium seeks to Internationalize itself it brings in women, and also it brings in the "savagery" for which Siam's fighting was (politically and colonially) stigmatized over 100 years ago, as MMA comes to its storied name. The "Be more civilized!" and "Distinguish the genders!" that was once demanded by the globalizing West has become "Be more violent!" and "Equalize the genders!" by the globalizing West...a West that is actually now an Internationalist vision. What is missing from this story perhaps is the equivalence of Britain's Suffragettes Self-Defense Club, which is to say the way in which equality under a martial arts rationalization is connected to the political fight for women's liberties and rights. From my view I suspect that the growing importance of respected female fighting in combat sports is an expression of the increased social and economic capital women have in a globalized world. Women as having real and imagined physical prowess in the traditionally male-coded ring (and cage) symbolically manifests actual changes in female powers in society. Women in rings has grown out of the Suffragettes Self-Defense Club, not now equalizing themselves with embodied knowledge in the streets against police, but rather signifying their political and socio-economic heft to a globalized world. Yet, as all things bend back, the commercialized capture of symbolized female power in the ring is part of its re-domestication, as women's bodies become sites of judgement and eroticized re-packaging, problemizing any overriding narrative of liberty. As women are called to the ring under the auspices of aggression-first promotional fight theater in the double-bind navigation of globalized freedoms, the role of rationalization remains circumspect. Rationalization can and does lead to the re-codification of the genders, as we see with the conventions of institutional competition, as well as within the commodification of the female person and body by combat sport entertainment, yet it also holds the power to un-moor entrenched sexism and bias which work to restrict the possibilities of women as fighter who stands as proxy to the power of women in general.
  • The Latest From Open Topics Forum

    • Great Step Taken. I would always admire Lumpinee as an inspiration!!!
    • I wanted to comment on this theme of MMA in regards also to what Kevin said on your last Muay-Thai Bones Podcast ep 26. Kevin spoke that he felt a red line had been crossed by allowing MMA in Lumpinee. He said He didnt want inferior MMA being shown there as one reason. He spoke of the inferior MMA of One Championship as compared to the UFC. Though the pool of fighters in One is smaller, it has for instance Team Lakay from the Philippines, and the Lee family of Hawaii:  Angela, Christian and now Victoria who could be champions in the UFC too, The UFC is best at exploiting and ruining the lives of its fighters who are subject to terrible contracts and endless bullying by this massive corporation.  Thank God One Championship exists, and many thanks to Chatri Sidyodtong for bringing Muay-Thai and Kickboxing into the program in 2018. The real problem of having MMA in Lumpinee is the problem of MMA itself. MMA usurped MuayThai years ago as the premier fighting art. In the early 90s when they had the first cage fights, it was also a contest of which style would prevail. Unfortunately BJJ 🤢 was the winner in those early years. Muay-Thai was only useful in standup, and striking could only prevail on the feet. If the fight went to the ground grapplers would prevail. Wrestlers, judokas jui jitsu, and sambo fighters could easily take down a stand-up fighter and submit or choke him out.  A third point which makes MMA the most attractive art is the streetfighting aspect which makes it more "realistic" to the bored average Western viewer. So MuayThai is seen as only one part, -and a less important aspect of MMA😢. What I am getting at basically is that from a Muay-Thai standpoint it would be better if MMA:                                         A) Never existed, or                                         B) Would just go away!😈
    • It was just announced that, starting January 8th of next year, Lumpinee will start promoting an afternoon show that is only children. There will be 4 bouts per card, starting at 1:30 PM. Children have been permitted to fight at Lumpinee for a long time, but there has always been a weight limit (and ostensibly an age limit, but I'm not sure what that was; the weight limit kind of takes care of the age limit at the same time) of 100 lbs. As it's been told to me by Legends and older fighters who entered Lumpinee at that 100 lbs minimum, it's a bit of a forgiving line and fighters sometimes had to eat and drink in order to try to hit 100 lbs, rather than anyone dropping down to it. This new show is lowering the weight limit to 80 lbs, which will allow younger fighters or will at least acknowledge what weight some of those fighters are actually at when they come to the stadium. The intention of the show is to give access and opportunity to dao rung or "rising stars" as they are called in Thai. It's unclear from the announcement who will be the promoter for this particular program, but it's in line with something that Sia Boat of Petchyindee had initiated and invested in for his own promotions prior to the most recent shutdowns from Covid. It is unlikely that this will include girls; but we'll see. Of note is that the graphic used for this announcement are two young fighters Jojo (red) and Yodpetaek (blue), two top young fighters are 12 and 13 years old, who recently fought to a draw on a high profile fight. Neither of these two fighters meet the weight requirement at 80 lbs.
    • To be honest, from my perspective, it feels like "ok we going to allow women fighting so we just gonna allow everything". Pyrrhic victory. 
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