Boxing Gym,

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

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

Boxing Gym

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