story but as simply another element of daily life in the gym. There isn’t a narrative to take you from one point to another on a straight line. Instead, Wiseman puts a microscope up to one point on a circle. These events at the gym occur every day, and are probably going on right now. Put the movie on an endless loop and you may approximate what life is like there.
What you see in all this training — what music you hear in the gym’s rhythms — varies from one person to the next. While reading about this film online, I was surprised by the array of opinions of it. What particularly surprised me was how many people considered it to be a celebration of violence and brutality. To my eyes, despite being set in a place where people train to hit and be hit, it is as peaceful and hopeful a film as I’ve seen in recent months. It’s a celebration not of violence, but of fitness and community — two things that our society often lacks.
Anyone can get a membership to Lord’s gym, and from the looks of the clientele, everyone does, regardless of gender, means, race, and age. You can even see babies in corners of the room, their portable car seats on the floor next to the dumbbells. The full spectrum of Austin residents is represented here, and more impressive, they all treat one another with respect and encouragement. Newcomers are eased in by staff members and the generous support of their fellow trainers. One person tells another that whenever a tough guy joins, he doesn’t last very long. It’s not that kind of place.
Another man talks about how he’s boxed for a long time and he loves being hit. With his chest puffed out and his macho posturing, this is the kind of person I avoid whenever I go to the gym. Maybe that’s my loss. Here, he’s surprisingly open to the opinions of others, even those with less experience. Far from being a know-it-all, he’s at Lord’s gym to learn, and perhaps to teach a little bit as well.
Wiseman and cinematographer John Davey capture these conversations and the workout routines with a fixed camera and a poet’s eye. They aim the lens at one particular pocket of action for a time, but frequently leave the camera back far enough that the eye is encouraged to explore the frame and appreciate the bustle of activity and the grimy ambience of the room. The goal is to make you an observer — to look at and intently listen to people you might ordinarily ignore, who are doing nothing but living their lives. To that end, the film reminds me of Studs Terkel’s interview books, such as Working.
At 91 minutes, Boxing Gym can feel like a long time to watch people exercise and train (it is in fact short by Wiseman’s standards). I confess to drifting off a bit in the final half hour, but that may be part of Wiseman’s intent. The beat of the film lulls you in, and though it initially seems as if there may not be much content to ponder, the thumps, clicks, and squeaks echo in your mind for days afterward.
Kid gloves: a scene from