Boxing Gym

In 2007, director Frederick Wiseman applied his renowned cinema verité to Austin, Texas’ Lord’s Gym. Without interviews or narrators, Wiseman employs the patience of a Buddha, waiting for events to unfold around him, sure that they will, and rewarded for the purity of his actions when scenes, stories, and narratives emerge fully-formed in front of his lens with all the piteous glory of real life.

In Boxing Gym, he find Texans of every social and economic circle seeking something from the sport and follows them at various stages of involvement. A young mother stops by on her way home from work to find out how a young mother might get involved in boxing. A battered college student comes in on his father’s orders to toughen him up. Doctors and lawyers are mixed among those in the dingy, hot gym learning boxing the hard way, just like Rocky Balboa did 35 years ago.

And like in Rocky, we see serious boxers in every stage of their careers. A young man with an amazing heavyweight’s physique converses energetically about detailed aspects of one of Mike Tyson’s lesser knock-outs. Two Hispanic men discuss lighter-weight Mexican boxing in revealing, fascinating terms. And an older fighter laments what could have been in a scene that would have played as overwrought in any other director’s movie, I assume.

While watching Boxing Gym, I felt like a tourist getting the best insider tour of an obscure subject, watching locals in their element, unaffected by the prying eye of the documentarian. Wiseman really absorbs every sense of his subject, including sights, sounds, textures, and on deeper until I felt like I understood the smells, the humidity, the backstories, and the motivations of people who were not fonted or even referred to by name. Because the director has somehow insinuated himself into these scenes without affecting them at all.

The characters are never self-conscious or even self-aware. Wiseman must be shooting from far away and pretending not to look at them, because people are reacting as if there is no camera around; because of this, we get a look at people — seekers, needy, emotionally wanting Texans pursuing life in a niche few of us may ever experience.

My favorite part was an extended sequence where a young man complained to a sparring partner about his impending move “back to Houston.” It’s a story we’ve all heard hundreds of times. The man loves Austin, and wants desperately to stay, but can’t find a job in Austin that pays as much as Houston’s job market.

His partner tells him there are dozens of boxing gyms in Houston, but the man resists, saying of course that Houston is so large, and he’ll be living with his parents in a northern suburb far away from the best inner-city boxing gyms. I don’t know if Frederick Wiseman knew how hilariously typical that exhange was, but with his flawless, meticulous fly-on-the-wall technique, he captured something as honest, human, and humorous as anything you’ll ever see.

[Boxing Gym is playing at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Tuesday through Sunday, December 21st through December 26th, as part of the Premieres: Contemporary World Cinema film series.]
(Zipporah Films --; Frederick Wiseman)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Tuesday, November 30th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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