The Austin Chronicle

Boxing Gym

Not rated, 91 min. Directed by Frederick Wiseman.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 12, 2010

Doc-maker laureate Frederick Wiseman's latest, filmed locally at Lord's Gym, is not so far removed from his last, La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet: Both films fixate on the process – the sweat, the endless reps – rather than the final product, be it opening night or a bout in the ring. In signature Wiseman fashion, Boxing Gym forgoes any audience hand-holding – no IDs, no talking heads – and simply immerses the viewer in the all-are-welcome gym run by the compact and sage Richard Lord. It's a casually bilingual place where tattooed fighters train alongside new moms and young kids – there are even a couple of babies in bassinets plopped ringside: It's a mix that I suspect will play as more of a novelty outside of Austin. Wiseman's film moves languidly, with no delineation between days (or, for that matter, between day and night) in its commentary-free cataloging of intimacies and incidentals, as when a mother wraps her son's hands in tape or a Mohawked veteran helpfully advises a newbie. Really, one is struck by how benign a house of pugilism it turns out to be. Conversations are spare and not always of much interest; boxers' eyes catch the camera often enough to suggest they were conscious of its presence, which in turn makes the viewer conscious, eroding some of the film's cozy, you-are-there effect. Far more engrossing are the long, dialogue-free stretches that fix on, say, bobbing feet or curled fists on a speed bag. The soundscape, too, is endlessly fascinating, a layer cake of squeaks, grunts, gasps, and rattling chains that, combined, catches a rhythm that sounds an awful lot like song. (Wiseman will be in attendance for the AFS Documentary Tour screening of Boxing Gym at 7pm on Sunday. See "A History of Violence" for an interview. At 4pm, Wiseman will also be present for a screening of his 1967 film, Titicut Follies.)

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