Punch in, punch out
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