DIR: Fred Wiseman
Strange as it may sound, BOXING GYM is an ideal companion piece to veteran documentarian Fred Wiseman’s last film; LA DANSE: THE PARIS OPERA BALLET. The worlds could scarcely be more different – the rarefied world of professional ballet as opposed to a Texas boxing gym frequented by amateurs and professionals alike, aged from about 6 to 68 – but the films both end up being largely about two things. The first of these is the physical feats the human body is capable of; the second the social structure that grows out of participation in each sport.
Wiseman is, arguably, the last true documentarian working. He deals not in imposed structure (BOXING GYM lack even the loose structure of LA DANSE) but the recording of moments of lives that interest him. This can be a little frustrating, and there are moments where you wish that BOXING GYM would at least build towards a defined event, but what Wiseman captures is so compelling in its raw honesty, and its visual beauty, that those concerns don’t detract from the experience of the film.
The only character we get to spend any great amount of time with is gym owner Richard Lord, who is shown in a great light as a teacher who is able to fit his approach to any sort of student. Aside from Lord though, most of the people in the film pass through the gym and the film. We see many in the background of multiple scenes, but most only get the focus turned on them briefly, be it the semi-pro female fighter whose baby sits in a car safety seat at the side of the ring as she spars, the three young men discussing the Virginia Tech shooting as they lace their gloves or the 19 year old with a black eye who assures Lord he’s not joining the gym so he can get in trouble.
Wiseman intercuts these snatches of conversation, these little pieces of people’s lives, with the almost ritualistic repetition of their training. It could be boring, but as in LA DANSE it becomes hypnotic, at times almost poetic. Wiseman is a brilliant director and cinematographer, and while never sacrificing the lived in reality of this film, he finds countless beautiful, artistic images with which to show us this world. BOXING GYM couldn’t be further from the likes of SUPER SIZE ME and SPELLBOUND if it tried, and while that will mean that it’s not for everyone I found it enthralling.