JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Fightville (Directors: Petra Epperlein, Michael Tucker) - April 29, 2011


4 4
85 min.

Reviewed at the 2011 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival
Fight to the finish

Ah, the allure of blood. As strong as the lock neck-feasting vampires have on the public’s crimson lust, there’s nothing that, seemingly, fires the human spirit more than two caged, bare-chested, fit men pummelling each other to the bitter end (for one of them)—be that knockout, broken nose, black eye or just a few harmless contusions and chipped teeth.

With real life armed conflict largely confined to plasma screens (save and except for the actual combatants) and urban gang wars rarely witnessed, humanity’s grizzly appetite for knock-‘em, sock-‘em, cut-‘em can be marvellously satiated thanks to the perfect storm of unrepentant promoters and breast-thumping warriors.

Similar to soccer, anyone can play: the only requirements are (a) boxers, sports shorts and cup (b) 4-ounce gloves (not the far deadlier-by-weight 16-ouncers favoured by real boxers) (c) flashing hands (d) darting feet (e) strangle-hold thighs (referring to the sport as a human cock fight takes on a decidedly rainbow hue with some of the manoeuvres that would have been deemed pornographic not so long ago) and—most importantly—the overriding desire to finish an opponent.

With The Wrestler still a strong echo and The Fighter in present-day consciousness, Petra Epperlein’s and Michael Tucker’s look behind the moveable ring in Lafayette, Louisiana is a thought-provoking examination of why twentysomethings can only find meaning in their lives by beating the crap out of their competitors.

Meet Dustin Poirier. Having established his expertise at the tender age of five (sending the hapless “contender” to the hospital with a broken jaw, landing him in court for the first—but not the last—time), later witnessing his dad’s example of full-contact spousal abuse (finally over when the troubled man ended his own miserable life), it seemed Dustin was destined for a life of crime. But once he tasted the heady excitement in the Gladiator’s Academy gym via the joys of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), the lost boy immediately found his zone.

The first step for all pro-fighting hopefuls is to pass their mentor’s compulsory “audition” (at 38, Tim Credeur can still hold his own with exuberant neophytes who have everything but training and strategy in their kit bags). Surviving that (Tucker’s camera is never shy about going blow for blow with the action—curiously, thankfully there’s not a frame of slow motion to be endured), Poirier drops 30 lbs. (then maintains ~150 lbs. by sweating off unwanted bulk before weigh-in). Under the tough-love tutelage of boxing coach Paul Bowman and daily skirmishes with his fellows, the wannabe champion soon learns how to drop an opponent in less than 60 seconds.

Albert Stainback (giddily embracing the look of A Clockwork Orange head of the Droogs, Alex—aurally aided and abetted by Walter Carlos-inspired tracks) seems cut from the same cloth. Espousing his belief that we all come from monkeys (er, perhaps more gorillas in this instance), he ritually thumps his slightly furry chest twice prior to “going to work.”

After some initial success, Stainback’s personal life falls apart when live-in girlfriend (and professional stripper—no one should miss the eerie links between caged entertainment of two vastly different “species”) mysteriously (to the viewer) vanishes from his life, the just-turned-pro (confirmed by inking a handwritten contract!) goes to seed. That induces some brutally tough love from Credeur (viciously demonstrating with his own fists how “unready” Stainback is for an imminent fight), leaving him to cheer on Dustin from the sidelines—his personal monkey business temporarily suspended.

Now that the senior UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) league (Poirier has graduated to it and is currently #6 in the rankings) has set up shop in Toronto (needing the 55,000-seat Rogers Centre to cope with demand), we can all look forward to the enjoyment of fight staff wiping up the red “spillage” between bouts and further opportunities to witness life-altering brain injuries once the Maple Leafs have started their early forays to the golf course. JWR

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Cinematographer - Michael Tucker
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