Description from TIFF 2010 catalog by Thom Powers:
Just how vast and influential is Frederick Wiseman’s body of work? The Museum of Modern Art in New York has devoted this entire year to a retrospective of his complete filmography, and has also published the book Frederick Wiseman, which contains essays by Errol Morris, David Denby, William Vollmann and many others.
Weighing in at a lean ninety minutes, Wiseman’s thirty-eighth feature is practically a short film compared to his signature voluminous works. With its brisk pace and genial atmosphere, Boxing Gym offers an accessible introduction to Wiseman’s acclaimed aesthetic approach. Working with longtime cameraman John Davey, Wiseman once again embeds himself in an institution &”8211; in this case, a boxing gym in Austin, Texas &”8211; without a preconceived agenda or narrative. Shot on 16mm, a format that most documentarians have abandoned for digital, this traditional observational documentary invites viewers to draw their own interpretations.
Wiseman’s preoccupation with training (also seen in La Danse &”8211; le ballet de l’Opera de Paris, which screened at last year’s Festival) is also the emphasis in Boxing Gym. Not concerned with blood or injury, Boxing Gym’s real subject is the dance that takes place inside the ring and the methods practitioners use to attain the requisite discipline, speed and endurance. The gym’s owner, Richard Lord, treats his athletes like a family, dispensing life advice in between training tips. Unlike the macho atmosphere that often clings to the boxing milieu, Lord’s Gym is a place where everyone is welcome, no matter their age, gender or ethnicity. Only a few of Lord’s boxers dream of competing at the highest levels; most are happily striving for their personal best.
Wiseman creates artful tableaux out of the meditative rhythms of skipping rope or punching a bag, and allows us to eavesdrop on poignant pep talks. The dedication of the boxers is so infectious you might vow to hit the gym yourself. Just remember this insight from one of the boxers: “Saying it and doing it are different things.”
About the director:
Frederick Wiseman was born in Boston and attended Yale Law School. He has directed nearly forty feature documentaries and has received multiple awards, including the 2007 lifetime achievement award from the Chicago International Documentary Film Festival and the 2005 George Polk career award from Long Island University. His filmography includes: Titicut Follies (67), High School (68), Law & Order (69), Welfare (75), Zoo (93), Public Housing (97), the fiction feature The Last Letter, which screened at the Festival in 2002, and Boxing Gym (10).