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Girl fight club

'Underground' brawls. Edgy? Maybe. But they're being filmed for a marketable DVD.

September 30, 2003|Hilary E. MacGregor | Times Staff Writer

The call came on a Friday afternoon: Underground girl fight. Tomorrow morning. Eleven a.m. A hangar downtown on Santa Fe Avenue.

The call was from a PR firm. That was all the information there was.

It seemed like a Hollywood fantasy of "edgy."

But it was real. Sort of.

The address was a shuttered brick storefront. Razor wire coiled atop chain-link fences. Nearby was a strip joint and a seafood plant.

Parking was not a problem.

Around back, the circus began. Vans crammed into a tiny alley. Women, hands taped, posed like cheap pinups on three strips of dingy Astroturf. Men with cameras roamed the premises, devouring the spectacle. You could see it on their faces: This was too good to be true!

In the media race to find ever more edgy, ever more urban, ever more underground scenes, this one felt intoxicatingly authentic. That was the high. That was the buzz.

"We live in a society where everything is inauthentic," says Neal Gabler, author of "Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality." "Or everyone believes everything is inauthentic. To paraphrase [Italian writer] Umberto Eco, we want the real so badly that we have to fabricate it."

Releases required

Spectators could enter only after signing a release to Demolition Pictures, stating that their likeness could appear on film. Fighters -- some naive, some savvy -- signed away their right to sue anyone for anything, whether they got cut, broken, maimed or killed.

Fighters would be paid commensurate with the risk of serious injury: For boxing with headgear, $100 for the winner. For boxing with no headgear, $150. For three rounds of street fighting, $225. For four rounds of street fighting, $275.

This "Extreme Chick Fight" was the 10th to take place this year in Los Angeles. Previous fights were held in a backyard in Crenshaw, a loft in Venice, a photo studio on Melrose Avenue.

The underground "scene" is the creation of a 29-year-old woman who will identify herself only as "Marie," but who made herself available for multiple media interviews, from Penthouse to the Los Angeles Times. Marie, a partner in Demolition Pictures, organized these fights, she said, so she could shoot them for a DVD, which she planned to market for $19.95 over the Internet, "Bumfights"-style. She hopes to next spread her "scene" to Detroit, Atlanta and Chicago.

"I work in the industry for real for real," said Marie, dressed in a black tube top with "Playgirl" printed across the front. She says that she's a UCLA film school graduate whose passion is documentaries, and that she's produced "urban" shows for VH1. "This," she said, "is something more underground, more hip, more counterculture."

That this underground scene exists only because she created it to sell as a commodity to people who want to feel edgy and in the know without ever leaving their living rooms does not bother Marie. Nor does the fact that these fights are exploitative and dangerous. "These girls are in their right minds," she said. "I don't think we are taking advantage of them."

And in the end, in the midst of this fake underground scene that Marie created to establish herself as a renegade filmmaker, one thing is real: the girls.

This core of reality, Gabler suggests, is what draws people to a fake underground.

Gabler calls it the "Jackass" phenomenon. Or the phenomenon of reality television. Why would anyone want to see a guy stapling his scrotum to his thigh, or women bashing their heads, Gabler asks. It is not, he says, to see them humiliate themselves, or to feel superior to them.

Rather, he says, in a world where nothing is real, we hunger for and desire to consume anything that seemingly, even in its fakery, has some reality at its core.

"Girls are really getting hurt," Gabler says. "The blood is real. The cries are real.

"It is just this side of a snuff film. The appeal of a snuff film is not to watch the violence. It is to see something authentic, something that crosses the line from being fabricated to something that can't be faked, even when it is in the process of being faked."

Under canvas banners of graffiti commissioned by Marie, the women bounced around, some of them sparring. Others stood awkwardly by, like cattle in a holding pen. They looked excited, stunned, scared. Word zapped through the crowd: One fighter was out doing sprints under the hot midday sun to warm up. Whoa. That was hard-core, man. That was real!

The DJ put on some hip-hop and directed the crowd like a conductor. "Let's get as many people around the ring as possible," he prompted.

A skinny guy in a black tank top entered the ring and spoke to the cameras. "Let's keep it clean, and make sure nobody dies."

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