Saturday, May 17, 2008

Movie Fights

ME: Tell me, O Master Warrior, can I truly learn anything from watching movie fights?

MASTER WARRIOR: Yes, Clodhopper. You can learn choreography.

Movie fights are not generally like real fights. If you recall the "Sucker Punch" series, you realize that real life confrontations are usually abrupt, brief and brutal. And whoever hits first, wins.

Movie fights are scripted for entertainment, not to instruct you in self defense. Like professional wrestling, they present exhibitions that showcase the participants' slick moves. You have to comb through a mountain of old films to find anything that resembles real fighting.

A favorite fight scene from my childhood came from the movie Bad Day at Black Rock, starring Spencer Tracy as a one-armed WWII vet. In it, he absolutely destroys the bully played by Ernest Borgnine. It's not all that realistic (especially the final windmill throw), but I like it because Tracy's character uses some actual WWII combat techniques -- notably, the judo chop or edge of hand blow.

Here's the link:

Bad Day at Black Rock Fight

Another fanciful feature of that fight is that Spencer Tracy keeps waiting for Ernest Borgnine to attack him rather than finishing the fight. Some people might think that's the fair and honorable thing to do, but if orcs were fair and honorable, you wouldn't have to defend yourself in the first place. In a street situation you must quickly neutralize the threat to a degree sufficient enough to make a safe escape.

Recently, lt (who is my barber and my friend) sent me a link to a fight scene from Cloak and Dagger. It's a spy thriller from the 1940's starring Gary Cooper. Fritz Lang, the director, did not shoot a fight scene like one you'd see in today's action movies.

There are no wide, looping punches, nothing really slick or impressive. Just two men, struggling to kill each other with their bare hands (okay, there's a gun and a knife, but they don't really come into play). It's gritty and nasty and brutal, and it has more realistic elements than the fight in Bad Day at Black Rock.

Here's the link to the video clip:

Cloak and Dagger fight


Whoever scripted this scene also knew something about WWII combatives. The Tiger Claw to the eyes came straight from W.E. Fairbairn's Get Tough. So did Gary Cooper's use of the Judo Chop (Edge of Hand Blow). The bending fingers, stomping and kicking give the impression of desperate men looking for any opening to take the other out.

It's not neat or slick or pretty, but real fights aren't, either. The drama comes not from cinematically appealing techniques, but from the desperate, anything-goes, life-or-death struggle itself. I do question whether the two-hand front choke would be the real fight ender, since there are so many ways to break free. On the other hand, fighting mano a mano is exhausting, and it's possible that whoever runs out of gas first has nothing left to make even an elementary escape.

ME: What do you think of movie fights now, O Master Warrior.

(Master Warrior feints a kick to the groin, and when I flinch, he delivers a dope-slap to my head.)

MASTER WARRIOR: I think you need to spend less time watching movies and more time practicing, Clodhopper.

Bookmark and Share

No comments: