Punch in, punch out

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Robert B. Ker For The New Mex­i­can

Boxing Gym, 3 chiles

Idoc­u­men­tary, not rated, CCA Cine­math­eque, The first thing you no­tice about Fred­er­ick Wise­man’s doc­u­men­tary Boxing Gym is the rhythm: the thump-thump-thump of a trainer work­ing a speed bag, the click-clacks of jump-ropes swip­ing the floor, the pit­ter-pat­ter and squeaks of boxing shoes, the elec­tronic beeps of timers, the call­ing out of “one two, one two” right-left com­bi­na­tion of the punches. The sec­ond thing you might no­tice is that these rhythms are al­most all there is to the movie. And once that re­al­iza­tion sets in, you start to hear the steady heart­beat be­neath all of the thumps, clicks, and squeaks.

Wise­man has filmed nearly 40 doc­u­men­taries since 1967, mostly free of nar­ra­tive but not what you’d call ex­per­i­men­tal, ei­ther. His films tend to be med­i­ta­tions on spe­cific places at spe­cific times, and they don’t com­ment on their sub­jects so much as ob­serve them. There is no voice-over, in­ter­views, or back story. Most re­cently, he gave us La Danse, his 2009 ex­am­i­na­tion of the Paris Opera Bal­let. Boxing Gym could be seen as a sort of se­quel to that film, with a con­tin­ued fo­cus on ath­leti­cism, move­ment, and rhythm. When one boxer stops to show an­other how to dance to cumbia mu­sic, it’s not even re­motely out of place.

The gym of the ti­tle is a dingy ware­house be­hind a Good­will in Austin, Texas, over­seen by Richard Lord, a wiry man with a raspy drawl. Posters from old matches adorn the walls. The punch­ing bags are wrapped in duct tape. Peo­ple use tires to work on strength and foot­work. Sup­pos­edly the build­ing has no heat or air con­di­tion­ing. This is a far cry from the op­u­lence of the Palais Garnier, but you wouldn’t want it to look any other way. It looks lived in and cared for.

Even though the set­ting would be the envy of art de­sign­ers for dra­mas such as Mil­lion Dol­lar Baby, you shouldn’t ex­pect a build-up to a big fight in the fi­nal act. In fact, don’t ex­pect acts at all. There is a bout near the end, but it comes not as the re­sult of a

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