Still courtesy of TIFF.
Anyone hoping that Frederick Wiseman’s latest, and thirty-eighth, film may serve as complement to his last (and thirty-seventh), 2009’s La Danse, is bound to be disappointed. Where La Danse was a stunning look into the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris, there was hope that Boxing Gym may provide a similar vantage on its Austin, Texas fight club: the macho ballet of blood, sweat, slips, and bobs. Mini-masterpieces of pugilism daubed across a blank canvas and all that.
In Wiseman’s typical style, Boxing Gym impartially observes the rotating cast of fighters at Lord’s, a small gym tucked behind a Goodwill. In a scene that comes a bit too late in the film, a nineteen-year-old kid comes into the gym with a black eye. He earnestly approached gym proprietor Richard Lord, telling him that more than wanting to learn how to fight, he wants to learn how to box. It’s an important distinction, especially now that MMA has made juiced-up jerks in “Tap Out” tees icons of a stupefying culture. Wiseman looks at boxers of all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life (a Porsche is parked aside pickups in Lord’s parking lot), unified by their shared love of the sport.
But as absorbing as the subject matter can be, Boxing Gym falls into a grating rhythm of training ritual, punctuated by the steady beep of the round timer. At just ninety minutes (well short of La Danse’s 160-minute running time), Wiseman’s latest feels distended. Say what you will about the merits of ballet versus boxing, but the preparation involved in the latter are a lot less interesting to see played out repeatedly on screen.
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