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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

Kurasawa Noir.jpeg

Kurasawa Stray Dog Noir.png

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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:

1214599071_SylvieandWangchannoi-MuayNoir.thumb.jpg.96a8d815ca86d6e735eca24a19c07233.jpg

 

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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    • I also think that we may run into some problems if we just define Thai hypermasculinity by the appeal to violence. In the West hypermasculinity is often strongly coded by shows of violence. I imagine you've read it but Sylvie's and my article Thai Masculinity: Postioning Nak Muay Between Monkhood and Nak Leng – Peter Vail is really good on this, taking the start from Peter Vail's chapter. We have to say that not only is the "nak leng" (prone to violence gangster tough) Thai hypermasculinity, but also so is the "monk". Both are exaggerated masculine ideals. And that's where the Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu battle plays out. Two models of hypermasculinity. I think the difficulty comes when we try to graft that historical duality onto let's say Greek mythology and Apollo & Dionysus, or even (Western) ideals of male and female.    
    • I think a really interesting place to start, and the metaphysically strongest foothold is your original appeal to Apollo as distinct, and the sense that (his/the) figure involves the movement from the inchoate (which in at least many societies is chthonic with female associations, though not categorically so). In at least the traditional aesthetics of Golden Age Muay Thai there is a powerful emphasis on distinction, readability, visibility, and even in contemporary Muay Thai you find the criticism of a fighter as muaymua which means indistinct, clouded. A very aggressive, flailing or windmilling fighter is fighting in an unreadable way. Muaymua. You find this in the importance of ruup, which you mentioned, which is ultimately taking the body as a sign, displaying posture, physical control, dignity, etc. A fighter who is off-balance, or who is bent over, or generally lacks readability has lost their ruup. This runs parallel to Buddhistic ideals of self-control. A fighter who cannot control their emotions also can't control their body-signification. This plays into your appeals to Heidegger's truth-event, art as visibility - though I personally feel that Heidegger got alethea somewhat wrong - which helps us understand that in a Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu (metaphysical) battle, both fighters are seeking to make themselves visible & readable. Distinct. I do think it is fair to say that Muay Femeu is further along the distinction spectrum, at least it does not risk lack of clarity quite as much in its style, as it often pays more attention to rhythm and timing (musical aspects of distinction and readability). And the burden falls upon the Muay Khao fighter to show distinction in his/her pressure fighting. Muay Khao legends are very insistent on this with Sylvie when they have instructed her. Do not rush. Find the rhythm, the beat. Make your strikes (which often are at close range) readable. Also, in this battle, the warfare that the Muay Khao fighter brings is to break the illusions of the Muay Femeu fighter's clarity and signified composure. You see this, for instance, in the two big fights that Samart lost (Dieselnoi and Wangchannoi). Once the spell is broken there is very little left. The Muay Khao fighter seeks to break ruup. But, I think it's a very complex thing to attempt to graft historical male and female expressions onto the inchoate>distinctness metaphysical spectrum, and arrive some beyond-history place. Yes, males (Patriarchy) have been placed at the top of most symbolic hierarchies, but Thailand itself in the 1920s-1950s adopted Western modes of gender distinction, specifically to appear more civilized, less deserving of colonization, more in step with "modernity". Siam was known to commonly not have strong visual distinctions between the genders. Westerners found this inchoate. You can see how historically contingent the application of distinction and gender may be. Also involved in Thailand is the basic tension between cosmopolitan (royal) distinction along those adopted and developed lines, and rural, provincial distinction which may have run along very different tastes and aesthetics. A male body of Bangkok princely signification may vie semiotically with the male body of Buriram signification. It's no easy thing to try and isolate some historical, yet transcendent "female" in this mixed history. In fact it seems like it is probably wrong to do so, or at least highly projective of one's own cultural history and presumptions.  The "ontology" that you appeal to in traditional Muay Thai, which is to say the ontology of win and loss, itself is conditioned and constructed historically. It relies on culturally developed aesthetics. Even if we grant that these aesthetics developed to reward distinctness over incoherence, the significations of that distinctness, what counts for distinctness, is to a large degree historically contingent. Thais say standing up straight is clear ruup, in Caipoeira it's the crouch. Also complexifying the distinctness measure, even or especially a great Muay Femeu fighter fights with deception and incoherence as a tool. Obscurity isn't only a weakness, it cloaks sudden readability. In some regard both Muay Khao and Muay Femeu are aesthetically mixing incoherence and clarity for effectiveness under that culturally expressive rule set.
    • I guess I may need to put some more thought into how I conceive of muay khao = female, because I'm having a hard time explaining it differently than I am, and it does not seem to be entirely convincing, haha. Yes, it is trying to set up a dichotomy for deconstruction, but it is also trying to conceive of dynamics of gender rather than cultural conceptions of gender. If the format of the presentation were different, I would have liked to establish the dichotomies of Ortner and Nietzsche first. I think that would have made for a more convincing case of muay khao being parallel to female, because it does seem to be more animalistic, and that would be considered closer to ''the female'' in the framework of Nietzsche and Ortner. Mainly it hinges on an understanding of gender as a continuum that constitutes it's pole through the immanent tension itself, rather than through substances at either end. I suppose that the way I see it outside of this attempt at establishing dichotomies for deconstruction is that muay khao and muay femeu both contend for the right to masculine identity, and both are at risk of being condemned as feminine; muay femeu for being too ornate and ''not having guts'', for not being aggressive and for not being strong enough; muay khao for looking like a dumb beast (many patriarchal societies consider and have considered women dumb, unfit for learning, see Aristotle), for not being able to play by the rules of man so to speak, for not being part of the order.   I agree with you that the strongest reading of muay thai is through your span of man-animality, but I wanted to try my hand at doing something similar with gender, because it seems to me (and to you) that there are strong currents of gender identities and dynamics in muay thai. As I mention in the presentation, I don't subscribe to an entirely social constructivist concept of gender, and so it seems to me that muay thai has something to tell us about gender that is more than how it is conceived at x time in y place.
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    • I also think that we may run into some problems if we just define Thai hypermasculinity by the appeal to violence. In the West hypermasculinity is often strongly coded by shows of violence. I imagine you've read it but Sylvie's and my article Thai Masculinity: Postioning Nak Muay Between Monkhood and Nak Leng – Peter Vail is really good on this, taking the start from Peter Vail's chapter. We have to say that not only is the "nak leng" (prone to violence gangster tough) Thai hypermasculinity, but also so is the "monk". Both are exaggerated masculine ideals. And that's where the Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu battle plays out. Two models of hypermasculinity. I think the difficulty comes when we try to graft that historical duality onto let's say Greek mythology and Apollo & Dionysus, or even (Western) ideals of male and female. The graphic we made from that article:  
    • I think a really interesting place to start, and the metaphysically strongest foothold is your original appeal to Apollo as distinct, and the sense that (his/the) figure involves the movement from the inchoate (which in at least many societies is chthonic with female associations, though not categorically so). In at least the traditional aesthetics of Golden Age Muay Thai there is a powerful emphasis on distinction, readability, visibility, and even in contemporary Muay Thai you find the criticism of a fighter as muaymua which means indistinct, clouded. A very aggressive, flailing or windmilling fighter is fighting in an unreadable way. Muaymua. You find this in the importance of ruup, which you mentioned, which is ultimately taking the body as a sign, displaying posture, physical control, dignity, etc. A fighter who is off-balance, or who is bent over, or generally lacks readability has lost their ruup. This runs parallel to Buddhistic ideals of self-control. A fighter who cannot control their emotions also can't control their body-signification. This plays into your appeals to Heidegger's truth-event, art as visibility - though I personally feel that Heidegger got alethea somewhat wrong - which helps us understand that in a Muay Khao vs Muay Femeu (metaphysical) battle, both fighters are seeking to make themselves visible & readable. Distinct. I do think it is fair to say that Muay Femeu is further along the distinction spectrum, at least it does not risk lack of clarity quite as much in its style, as it often pays more attention to rhythm and timing (musical aspects of distinction and readability). And the burden falls upon the Muay Khao fighter to show distinction in his/her pressure fighting. Muay Khao legends are very insistent on this with Sylvie when they have instructed her. Do not rush. Find the rhythm, the beat. Make your strikes (which often are at close range) readable. Also, in this battle, the warfare that the Muay Khao fighter brings is to break the illusions of the Muay Femeu fighter's clarity and signified composure. You see this, for instance, in the two big fights that Samart lost (Dieselnoi and Wangchannoi). Once the spell is broken there is very little left. The Muay Khao fighter seeks to break ruup. But, I think it's a very complex thing to attempt to graft historical male and female expressions onto the inchoate>distinctness metaphysical spectrum, and arrive some beyond-history place. Yes, males (Patriarchy) have been placed at the top of most symbolic hierarchies, but Thailand itself in the 1920s-1950s adopted Western modes of gender distinction, specifically to appear more civilized, less deserving of colonization, more in step with "modernity". Siam was known to commonly not have strong visual distinctions between the genders. Westerners found this inchoate. You can see how historically contingent the application of distinction and gender may be. Also involved in Thailand is the basic tension between cosmopolitan (royal) distinction along those adopted and developed lines, and rural, provincial distinction which may have run along very different tastes and aesthetics. A male body of Bangkok princely signification may vie semiotically with the male body of Buriram signification. It's no easy thing to try and isolate some historical, yet transcendent "female" in this mixed history. In fact it seems like it is probably wrong to do so, or at least highly projective of one's own cultural history and presumptions.  The "ontology" that you appeal to in traditional Muay Thai, which is to say the ontology of win and loss, itself is conditioned and constructed historically. It relies on culturally developed aesthetics. Even if we grant that these aesthetics developed to reward distinctness over incoherence, the significations of that distinctness, what counts for distinctness, is to a large degree historically contingent. Thais say standing up straight is clear ruup, in Caipoeira it's the crouch. Also complexifying the distinctness measure, even or especially a great Muay Femeu fighter fights with deception and incoherence as a tool. Obscurity isn't only a weakness, it cloaks sudden readability. In some regard both Muay Khao and Muay Femeu are aesthetically mixing incoherence and clarity for effectiveness under that culturally expressive rule set.
    • I guess I may need to put some more thought into how I conceive of muay khao = female, because I'm having a hard time explaining it differently than I am, and it does not seem to be entirely convincing, haha. Yes, it is trying to set up a dichotomy for deconstruction, but it is also trying to conceive of dynamics of gender rather than cultural conceptions of gender. If the format of the presentation were different, I would have liked to establish the dichotomies of Ortner and Nietzsche first. I think that would have made for a more convincing case of muay khao being parallel to female, because it does seem to be more animalistic, and that would be considered closer to ''the female'' in the framework of Nietzsche and Ortner. Mainly it hinges on an understanding of gender as a continuum that constitutes it's pole through the immanent tension itself, rather than through substances at either end. I suppose that the way I see it outside of this attempt at establishing dichotomies for deconstruction is that muay khao and muay femeu both contend for the right to masculine identity, and both are at risk of being condemned as feminine; muay femeu for being too ornate and ''not having guts'', for not being aggressive and for not being strong enough; muay khao for looking like a dumb beast (many patriarchal societies consider and have considered women dumb, unfit for learning, see Aristotle), for not being able to play by the rules of man so to speak, for not being part of the order.   I agree with you that the strongest reading of muay thai is through your span of man-animality, but I wanted to try my hand at doing something similar with gender, because it seems to me (and to you) that there are strong currents of gender identities and dynamics in muay thai. As I mention in the presentation, I don't subscribe to an entirely social constructivist concept of gender, and so it seems to me that muay thai has something to tell us about gender that is more than how it is conceived at x time in y place.
    • Okay. But you are the one who included "female" on one half of the bracket. It was your schema. You may be saying that this dichotomy cannot hold, but even at the level of description it doesn't seem to describe the cultural facts on the ground, to start with. But maybe I'm not following you. I just don't see why a starting place would be Muay Khao = female, unless one is just trying to set up a dichotomy that will then be deconstructed. Are we starting with something like: Muay Khao is rural, rural is of the land, the land is often seen as female in cultures? Or, why isn't Samart "Dionysian"? He is ornate. He is gender fluid (in some ways), He is theatrical. I guess I'm just having trouble with the starting point, which is a male vs female division. But I will admit I might not be following it clearly. I do really enjoy and even love the broad strokes of your thought. And the presentation with all the performance/example is really beautiful stuff. So good. I do love the way you have brought diverse ideas and theories together. It's very good.
    • [again, I see you have responded to the above while writing, I'll just post this blind.] I should say, I think that these contradictions in representation, the difficulty in just popping most Muay Femeu fighters into a "male" box, and Muay Khao fighters into a "female" box, actually comes from the attempt to move from what maybe we'd call ethnography (?) to metaphysics. The contradictions actually, don't mean that it's wrong to attempt the theorizing, but rather than that politics and ideology complexify the entire problem. You touch on this in your presentation when you suggest that provincial males might see the aristocratic boys as sissies (ie, unmanly). That entire inversion of what is manly is at tension here. But, being very broad about it...the "critique" of urban sophistication is that it is "feminine" and the critique of rural strength is that it is "animalistic" or "stupid" (not that it is feminine). Any approach would have to incorporate these poles I think.  
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