Two guys in an enclosed space beating the b’Jesus out of each other doesn’t sound like philosophy. Blood smeared across the canvas floor, a busted nose spread like putty across a guy’s purpled face, a baying crowd and a ring announcer elongating words to within an inch of meaning shouldn’t really be something to think much about. But it is. “Every fight is a story” says one of the fighters featured in Fightville and damn if that ain’t true.

Fightville tracks the fortunes of two fighters and their coach, as well as the promoter who lives and dies on their white-knuckle fists and sweaty bodies. Each is indeed a story. And a fight. One fighter, Dustin The Diamond (pictured above), is on the way up and just can’t stop winning. The other, Albert, is having a tougher time, trying to frame his potential and his messy family background. There’s the trainer Crazy Tim, with his cauliflower ears, and love of fear, and finally Gil the Thrill, the promoter with the nice smile and sweet family who risks everything to put on profitable fight nights all across America.

Mixed Martial Arts looks like a messy way to make a living. The concept is to throw all fighting styles into a melange of squirming, punching, kicking and throwing. It doesn’t appear to have a pattern or a point, other than to beat the crap out of someone else. Or doesn’t it? As one fighter puts it “Life is about balance and violence is part of that balance.” Hmmm, this world may not be what it first appears.

That little pearl above is not the only bit of wisdom that drops from the lips of these thuggish-looking heads and the skill of directors Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein is to draw out the narrative of this odd and dangerous world to the extent that life parallels are easy to make.

Dustin, the champ on the up, looks like sweet kid who has a skill in an area that isn’t sanctioned by polite society. That isn’t his fault and if he lived in another time, another place, he’d be exalted. His good fortune is that he’s found an outlet and so, rather than being a menace to society and himself, he’s making a living from controlled brutality. His energies and obsessions are turned inward and are given purpose. It’s a success story worth celebrating. And studying.

For all the street philosophy though, these guys see life as a zero sum game. Its all about winning and losing and while philosophers of a type – a Sun Tzu, or a Machiavelli – might agree, it’s not necessarily the most enlightened way to view existence; we’re all going to lose one day and our fight for life always ends in defeat. Life is less about controlling the world around you, more about managing how you deal with it.

The characters in Fightville have an overly simplistic world view, tempered by a skewed take on life. Men are made to physically fight, we are told. Sure, but that doesn’t mean we have to, or to even be turned on by it when others do. Men, it might also be argued, are psychologically built to kill our babies, but it doesn’t mean we all do, or want to.

So, while the philosophical lines are cute, they don’t get to why this doco makes you think. For that, take Gil the Thrill, the promoter, as an example. In arranging the bouts, he is fighting a different fight. He’s struggling for his livelihood, his family, his security. The undertone of his story is that we all do indeed fight, just not always with our fists, and that life is indeed a battle. It’s just a more subtle thing, with a more amorphous opponent and there are no rules, not even a cage to slug it out in. Our fears, our habits, our obsessions take us on everyday and their savagery is just as brutal as any thug in a cage.

While all the men in Fightville have/or do fight with their bodies, all fight also with their minds too. And they know it. And love it. This fact rings like an end-of-round bell with those of us – that is all of us – who struggle daily with ourselves. Each man has his inner wars, his own internal scars and his own stories. Those are the real fights, the real tales and the skill of Fightville is that amid the flecks of sweat, the heaving bodies, the gore and the violence, that delicate truth can be seen.

THE SKINNY

Title – Fightville

Makers – Heros Films

How to Catch it – DVD

Couch Time – 85 Mins

High Point – The philosophy

Low Point – The banality of violence

Extras – Yes, but limited

Get more Crikey, for less

It’s more than a newsletter. It’s where readers expect more – fearless journalism from a truly independent perspective. We don’t pander to anyone’s party biases. We question everything, explore the uncomfortable and dig deeper.

Join us this week for 50% off a year of Crikey.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
50% off