Directed by Frederick Wiseman
Of all competitive athletic endeavors, boxing has been most subject to lugubrious cinematic treatment. Despite the odd quotidian portrait such as John Huston’s Fat City, the masculine and working-class hero mythos embodied by pugilism have continually made it the stuff of big screen melodrama—a montage of boxing movie highlights, one imagines, could easily be scored to Simon and Garfunkel: "I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told . . ."
In Boxing Gym, his latest documentary of you-are-there immediacy, now 80-year-old legend Frederick Wiseman rejects grandeur—or the capital-H history of Ken Burns—in favor of the grind. Dropping into an Austin training facility owned by easy-going, rat-tail-sporting Richard Lord, Wiseman immerses the viewer in the sights and sounds of endless pummeled punching bags, buzzing timers, and ringside shit-shooting sessions. Considering that dedication to repetition is its primary theme, Gym impressively encompasses the sheer variety of talents, personalities, and ages (including infants) comprising the communal character of this sweaty microcosm.
And as always, a subtle commentary arises from Wiseman’s carefully selected material. Like the Vietnam War that haunts the concluding images of his High School, the contemporaneous Virginia Tech massacre casts a long, eerie shadow over Gym’s final reels. As amateur sparring partners attempt to understand the tragedy while acknowledging something similar will inevitably happen again, it becomes evident that though some can control and channel violence through constructive outlets, there are others whom violence controls and channels. How closely related these types are remains the film’s core mystery.
Opens October 22 at IFC Center