Movie review: In ‘Boxing Gym,’ Frederick Wiseman proves himself a champ
The documentaries of legendary director Frederick Wiseman possess a deceptively simple, formalized elegance.
Even when his subject matter seems utterly prosaic – in films such as “High School,” “Hospital,” “Basic Training,” “Public Housing,” “Domestic Violence” and “State Legislature” – his clear-eyed, unadorned style of observe-and-report never fails to invest his pictures with a unique, everyday lyricism.
That’s true even in his latest film, “Boxing Gym,” which takes place in drab confines of Lord’s Gym, a no-frills workshop of the “sweet science” located in a gritty industrial area of Austin, Texas. Outfitted with peeling pugilism posters, duct-taped heavy bags and a motley assortment of speed bags, medicine balls, free weights and exercise machines scattered around two boxing rings, it’s a grimy, utilitarian setting straight out of “Million Dollar Baby” or “Raging Bull.” Here, you can virtually smell the sweat.
But it’s just the sort of place in which Wiseman has proven himself a master at finding startling beauty and understated meaning.
At 80, Wiseman (who got his start with the landmark “Titicut Follies” in 1967) is a wise documentary guru, finding meditative truths in the commonplace. And in focusing his cameras on the multi-cultural, multi-generational clients who flock to Lord’s for rigorous training, he creates a larger, surprisingly gentle portrait from the brutal thump and bump of boxing ritual.
Emerging as the unlikely star of this grubby milieu is Richard Lord, a former professional fighter who runs his namesake gym with no-nonsense efficiency (“$50 a month, no contract, no plastic;, no initiation fee”). He’s a muscular, raspy-voiced taskmaster, a true believer in the beauty and discipline of the manly art of boxing.
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