by Drew Martin
I watched two documentary films in the past month that explore violence from completely different angles: Dawg Fight by Billy Corben and Into the Abyss by Werner Herzog.
Dawg Fight, which takes place in a poor neighborhood of Miami-Dade County, Florida, harnesses the organized violence of backyard ring, bare-fist fighting as a way out of the random violence of poverty. The star of the film and hero of the community is the hulking Dhafir “Dada 5000” Harris who arranges the events, pep-talks the fighters, and makes sure the fight is fair so that the best man wins.
The other film, Into the Abyss, is less brutal but much more disturbing. Herzog's closeup look at two young Texans in prison for a triple-murder. One of the men is on death row, and executed by the conclusion of the film. Herzog interviews him days before this. He also interviews a partner in crime who is serving a life sentence. As always, Herzog is tasteful and contemplative. You see this with the respect his subjects grant him even though they could rebuff - this is none of your business.
When I watched both of these films, I thought about the guileless foreigner who would be shocked by the state of the communities and the degree of violence shown in each of these documentaries, but the truth is I cannot think of bigger-picture portrayals of America that could be more honest than the microcosms of these two documentaries.