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Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu

Muay Noir: Where Muay Thai Photography and Film Noir Meet

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11 minutes ago, threeoaks said:

This is a seminar.  I’ll be studying later.  Night of the Hunter is a favorite.  It’s all I can do not to tattoo “Love Hate” on my knuckles.

I'm still thinking about your questions about performativity and femininity. There is really a perfomative aspect of Film Noir and also in Muay Thai, and there is a hyper-masculinity in both, but I'm not quite sure how they connect up. We get that line of Dorothy Parker's "Scratch an actor, you find an actress". The Film Noir construct seems to be pretty bulwarked against any such revelation, even if true. In some ways the performative elements of masculinity are the essence of masculinity, especially when we climb out of western sensibilities. The Samurai, highly performative. The executioner. 

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More on classic Film Noir aesthetics, from Paul Schrader's - Notes on Film Noir

 

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Most interesting in these observations to me is #3, that the subject and the context are given the same lighting. I experience Noir as plucking out the subject from the darkness, with the avenue of light, while I can definitely see what Schrader is saying. This is maybe a fundamental tension of a subject swallowed up by the corrupting or oeneric world, and the subject disjoined from it. Maybe there is a passing into and out of existence, between these two poles. I have to think on this.

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In terms of personal inspiration again, Kurasawa all the way.  I've read that there is some debate about how many of his films would qualify as Film Noir (some fancy a very narrow boundary), but a film like Stray Dog (1949) definitely fits the bill, and is incredible. For my part, a great number of Kurasawa films are quite Noir, so many of them in the aftermath of a disillusionment in society. This is leaving aside for a moment his Samurai films, which may be one of the more important templates for a Muay Noir photography.

Kurasawa is a director who sometimes slips from my mind despite having enormous impact on me, visually, and when I go back to him I shake my head and think to myself: There may never have been as great a director as him.

Stray Dog

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Logic of Shadows

Doing a little research into the aesthetic of Film Noir last night we watched Jeanne Eagels (1957) with Kim Novak. I was drawn to it because it was in a list of Noir genre busting Film Noir films, in a critical essay list that included 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was filled with beautiful frames. But this series below just captured my brain. Kim Novak, caught in emotional desperation, turns her face away from an old flame who has come to save her from self-destruction. I'm just mesmerized by her turn-away, how she suddenly incandesces in almost a blownout white of sun, as she turns away, despondent. The Logic of Shadows. Here is is "going away", but growing brighter, which in just a few frames enacts her tragic arc as a character in the film, a kind of Icarus of morality. Catching more light, but burning up. It shows that even in a simple binary of light and dark you can compose a calculus of great meaning.

Kim Novak Muay Noir.jpg

Kim Novak Film Noir.jpg

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An interesting dimension to walk when thinking of a possible Muay Noir, is that in the minds of many film critics, Film Noir does not constitute a genre. Writers like Paul Schrader like to say that Film Noir is just literally "black film" (as opposed to gray film, or off-white film), meaning, I assume, it's a gray scale pallete choice. One is painting towards that end of the scale. Thinking in these terms, instead of grafting on genre or definition types, presents us with a much more open ended set of possibilities. For instance my thought that for me darkness slows time down, brings a sense of peace, asethetically goes against many of the more genre-centric uses of darkness (to produce tension, or foreboding). This kind of reversal is much more understandable if you just start from the "Black Film" perspective. What does Black Film give us or present as possible? We are looking at a pallete, and a relationship to light, and maybe less than an appeal to a convention.

I don't think we can push this too far and still meaningfully use the reference Film Noir, but it can act as a creative starting place.

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MV5BZWM2MDZkMzUtMjBlMC00ZDRkLWFmODctOGU3NGNkMWQwOTk1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTE2NzA0Ng@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,702,1000_AL_.jpg

This isn't the right composition, obviously, but this frame from the film Laura (1944) taught me something in my recent research into Film Noir classics. I was quite surprised by the flatness of the photography of the film, which seemed like it lacked something of the teeth of what I've come to expect from the Noir Aesthetic. But this scene, an interrogation scene, opened up an interesting truth or concept in the Noir workings. While much of the film lacked photographic depth, this scene did not. The blacks produced great depth, with Gene Teirney's face floating above it, almost supernaturally. It gave me to wonder if this is the purpose of shadow effects in Film Noir, a way to create photographic depth, a rich sense of swimming in something. And, sympathetically, this could be the same for any Noir approach to Muay Thai photography. The Bas Relief effect. I feel like I touched on this in the thread above, in another manner, but it is interesting how the study of a subject can provide you with the negative of a positive, the absence bringing forward the subject.

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On 11/19/2019 at 11:08 PM, WaltZinkPhotography said:

These may or may not be in the same vein. My removal of color definitely is a bit different than the typical black and white we think of with noir. Still, I think the sport - as well as the country of Thailand! - lends itself well to noir photography.

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Who is this fighter please Kevin? 
 

Just absolutely love your work 🙏🏼❤️

Thank you for sharing 

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Additional study material, unpacking the historical development of the Noir aesthetic, if anyone wants to follow along:
 

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Deadly Deviations, Subversive Cinema: The Influence of Hollywood Film Noir on the French New Wave (Ph.D Dissertation)

This dissertation develops a comprehensive study of the influence exerted by Hollywood “genre” cinema, in particular the B-series film noir, on the French New Wave. Initially, I ask if this relationship is not the principle identifying criterion of New Wave cinema. It is, after all, a matter of record that Hollywood’s cheaply-made B-movies were championed by the critics of Cahiers du cinéma as permitting authorial self-expression and as encouraging cinematic innovation and evolution. Genre cinema subsequently remained a preoccupation for the New Wave auteurs, who made no fewer than fifty gangster and crime films between 1958 and 1965, including many of the New Wave’s most iconic films. I therefore embark on a comparative study that considers in great detail the New Wave’s reprisal and adaptation of the film noir format, with my analyses focused not only on character and plot conventions, but also on the tropes, aesthetics and filmmaking production techniques common to both cinemas. I show how the two cinemas cross-pollinate, especially given that the French polar itself exerted influence on Hollywood film noir and that French critics were among the first to identify the new tendency towards making film noir in postwar Hollywood. I also draw a number of important conclusions. Primarily, I show that while the New Wave borrows extensively from Hollywood aesthetics, its manipulation and subversion of American film noir conventions are also at the very heart of the politique des auteurs. This politique is characterized by a profound dissatisfaction with their era, the Americanization of French society, France’s involvement in Algeria, and a reticence about the impending sexual liberation movement. I contextualize my project within the current debate in film and French studies regarding the legacy of the New Wave, particularly in light of a tendency to cast doubt on the movement’s involvement with “the political,” as well as to dispute the New Wave’s status as a defining moment in French cinema.

source, download the entire paper

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In posting a new photo in the Noir aesthetic, a portrait of the legend Wangchannoi, it struck me something that should have been obvious, but for some reason I never caught. There is a very real - sociological, identity laden - way in which Muay Thai fighters are aligned with the image of the Gangster. I think unconsciously using cinematic tropes that encapsulate the picture of the American Gangster, Film Noir, somehow work to braid western and Thai conceptions of manliness. In fact, this photo has some of this. Wangchannoi in particular was known for his savage, violent, but ultra cool fighting style. Seeing him here, later in life, in a Noir light, somehow embodies that in a very curious and emotive way:

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If you want to read more on the connection between the Nak Muay (Muay Thai fighter) and the Nakleng (gangster) in Thai culture, this article and essay is indispensable:

Thai Masculinity: Positioning Nak Muay Between Monkhood and Nak Leng – Peter Vail

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I'm uncovering for myself, just tracing the line of contrast in Noir back through time, that German Expressionism in film (this I knew about), but also silent film whites play role in a Muay Noir aesthetic for me. This was really brought to bare in the film Blancanieves (Snow White), which is a 2012 homage to the silent films of Europe. It's just a beautiful film, and for me tickles so much of what Noir also carries. Here are a series of still caps I took from the film to give you an idea of what I see:

A Muay Noir aesthetic can draw on the morality tale tradition of German Expressionism, which you find in this film, and which the Noir Universe also absorbed.

 

 

 

 

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A contemporary photographer whose photos I think can contribute to a possible Muay Noir discussion is: https://www.instagram.com/dieter.langhart/

It's the way he handles the deep, rich, stark blacks, and the blownout whites, and then all the tonality and detail inbetween, for me. Here is a square of his photos from his Gram, but really look through it all and you'll see what I mean.

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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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