Knuckle. A Review.

by Daniel Russ on September 20, 2014




Documentarian Ian Palmer directed one of the strangest, most fascinating films I have ever seen: Knuckles. Not unlike today’s much celebrated Rodriguez work, Boyhood, the entire documentary was chronicled over a period of more than 12 years. I could not tear myself away from this film. You watch this film like you watch Jerry Springer. You can’t help yourself. It’s an hour and a half of YouTube street videos but the subject matter is morbid and ineluctably so.


Travelers is a term that describes a huge Family of cousins through the United Kingdom, numbering about 30,000. Think of them as Irish gypsies. That said, they have their own traditions and sensibilities and notions of familial honor. One of them is a sort of duel for reputation settled by   between male members of the family in bare knuckle fist fighting. Their reasons for engaging in bare-knuckle matches are as amorphous as defending their name. The historical series of fights are all video taped, and each affront milked for all its worth. The names of each family are tossed back and forth like epithets by provocateur cousins.


In the deepest Irish brogue Joe (Big Joe) Joyce disparages a rival clan: “…and let me taiiiil you der… Quinn’s ever gonna beat a Joyce or ever be worth a shite…” Joe (Big Joe) Joyce is not a bad guy, but he is utterly indoctrinated in an odd mix of fierce loyalty to a member of one clan and spitting contempt for another similarly related cousin. He had taken umbrage over something said about the Joyce’s a decade earlier by a Quinn that has been festering since that moment.


What more motivation do you need?


The fights themselves are spawned typically by videos that each family makes and sends to the other. The films are filled with vituperous backstabbing, taunts, name-calling, and various other provocations, not the least of which are manufactured lies about each other.


In the interest of clarity, these are not the most clearheaded people. In revealing moments, their wives spoke to camera admitting that if it were their druthers no relative of theirs would ever fight over a name.


The fights themselves are remarkable in that they are exactly what you would expect when two middle aged men who barely train decide one month in advance to meet in a remote parking lot and ink their names in their own family history with another Quinn/Joyce bobbery. Knuckle has footage of some of the training members go through and it’s obvious that Paddy Quinn, a protagonist in these Hatfield/McCoy feuds, is going to be difficult to beat. He is solidly built, tall, and without the middle age weight most of the rivals carry.


Many of them train while they smoke.


The families arriving on the remote scene in their respective caravans and entourages is always inundated with tension. Often the police follow them and break up the fights, sometimes even hovering over them in Police Helicopter.


There are referees, three or four men who establish the rules, fist to fist only, no biting, no hitting when they’re down, no knives or guns.


Some fights are great and some are not great as you might expect. They begin with handshakes and yelling, and the opponents take off their shirts and start warming up. Many are mismatches that quickly grow desperate and pitiful. Some of them are equally matched and equally untalented fighters. Some of the matches go on for hours, their gauze-wrapped fists and t-shirts soaked in blood and sweat.


Mercifully they end.



The families: Joyces, Nevins, and Quinns



Joe (Big Joe) Joyce

Christy (Ditsy) Nevin

Davey Nevin

Thomas (Spike) Nevin

Ian Palmer

James Quinn McDonagh

Michael Quinn McDonagh

Paddy Quinn McDonagh


I recommend it. James Quinn is incredibly charismatic.





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