Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Knuckle: Hardcore Feuding

Fighting never solved anything our scoldy teachers told us, but it sure can provide satisfaction. Just ask the Mcdonaghs and the Joyces, the Hatfields and McCoys (or perhaps the Heike and Genji) of the Irish Travellers. Distantly related, something transpired between the clans that is never spoken of, but will never be forgotten. This simmering feud often boils over into bare-knuckle boxing matches, documented in all their brutal lunacy in Ian Palmer’s Knuckle (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Being a good sport, Palmer innocently agreed to videotape a Mcdonagh wedding. There he only briefly met James Quinn Mcdonagh, but he could still tell the big, outgoing man was one seriously bad cat. A few days later he received a call asking if he would like to record Mcdonagh’s upcoming bare-knuckle match with their sworn enemies, the Joyces. Game on.

For the Travellers, “fair play” refers to a bare-knuckle bout, impartially refereed by a member of a neutral clan. As the champion of his clan, James Quinn Mcdonagh will see a whole lot of fair play over the twelve years Palmer follows him. It seems like each match will be the big one that finally settles everything, but as soon as they are over, each side immediately starts provoking the other again.

This madness is for real. They really go at it. However, anyone with any boxing or martial arts background whatsoever will be appalled by their technique. Basically, the brawlers wail away at each others’ heads, leaving the frequently big white doughy midsections completely exposed.

Knuckle is epic in its knuckleheadedness. To his credit, James Quinn starts to tire of this vicious circle, recognizing it for what it is. Indeed, he might even be the Traveller equivalent of Nixon going to China, making some late overtures of reconciliation to the Joyces. Throughout the film though, it is always evident why Palmer was drawn to him as his primary focus. He has undeniable presence and a fearsome record fair-fighting.

Palmer clearly earned the trust of the Mcdonaghs, giving them due fair play in the sensitive manner he presents their lives. Yet, the Traveller women remained camera-shy, rarely appearing in Knuckle. Of course, it is hardly surprising, considering how testosterone-drenched the film is. Frankly, Palmer himself burned out on the insanity of the fighting, but was lured back with the promise of a legitimately climatic bout.

Without doubt, Knuckle is extreme nonfiction filmmaking. You just cannot help but shake your head at the sight of these grown men—senior citizens even—going at it. Chocked to the gills with attitude and action, it is nothing like the recent crop of quiet cerebral process-oriented documentaries, such as El Bulli. As a result, it is wildly entertaining, if perhaps in a guilty pleasure sort of way. Enthusiastically recommended hard-nosed cinema, Knuckle opens this Friday (12/9) in New York at the Cinema Village.