Boxing Gym

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Boxing Gym
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Uber-documentarian filmmaker Frederick Wise breaks new ground, once again, as he brings his cameras to give us a candid look at the boxing ring in his exceptional analysis of the sport as he journeys to Austin, Texas to visit Richard Lord’s “Boxing Gym.’

It is a rare thing when a documentary hits home with me. “Boxing Gym” is that documentary. As a professional swim instructor, I understand the rigors the students go through trying to learn their new sport and see, through the eyes of the boxing teachers, the physical challenges they face.

Wiseman gives shrift to both students and teachers in “Boxing Gym as he takes us through the day-to-day workings at Richard Long’s house dedicated to the art of boxing. He presents us to modern world of boxing where the average Joe, not the professional, is the clientele of Lord’s gym. Moms and dad bring their babies to the gym while they work out. Children, teens and adults all come to their new Mecca to learn the tough art of boxing.

The camera follows people from all walks of life as they go through their training, sparring with others, shadow boxing, working the speed bag and heavy bag and developing the endurance the sport demands. The workouts that Lord and his staff design and supervise require the students to make the commitment to learn to box and to stick with it. Richard Lord provides talking head interview time with Wiseman but it is the unrehearsed training sessions that are always going on that is the meat of “Boxing Gym.” The filmmaker uses his camera to capture the excitement of the gym without intrusion, making it feel like you are there.

Frederick Wiseman has been making documentary films for nearly half a century and the quality and character of his works have always shown through. “Boxing Gym” is no exception and he shows the grace and beauty of recreational boxing. I give it an A-.

In Austin, TX, Richard Lord doesn't go in for high tech marketing - the sandwich board outside his place doesn't even include an area code.  But in his humble building is a crossroads of people, young and old, fit and fat, male and female, American and foreigner, who all have their reasons for being at Lord's "Boxing Gym."

Octogenarian documentarian Frederick Wiseman ("Titicut Follies," "La Danse - Le allet de l'Opera de Paris") hasn't lost a bit of his skill.  His latest, "Boxing Gym," is a beautifully assembled contemplation on one place where a sport is taught by old pros.  Wiseman intercuts scenes of Lord teaching technique and patrons' conversations - which range in subject from moving to Houston to a humorously botched robbery - with mesmerizing reveries of repetitive movement.  It's simply amazing how Wiseman can make punching the speed ball, tossing the medicine ball or various forms of sit-ups so Zen-like.

The director, who also edits picture and sound, also achieves a meditative, rhythmic flow by how he edits his sound, carrying the echoes of a previous scene into the next so that there is never an abrupt transition.  His filmmaking is like the joy of music and dance professed by a Mexican musician.

I personally have little interest in the sport of boxing, but Wiseman's film will give anyone an appreciation for it - it's a tough and demanding sport.  Lord, a former Pro, is also a fantastic host, a democratic mentor who welcomes the 40th birthday gift of boxing from a wife to her husband, the needs of an epileptic boy or the crying babies of working women into his establishment.  (In one scene, a hirsute, muscular man punches the bag with a baby in a carrier sitting on the floor behind him, recalling Mac in "Local Hero" asking a group of guys, 'Whose baby?')

Getting audiences outside the area of interest to "Boxing Gym" may be a tough sell, but anyone who appreciates the art of documentary filmmaking will be glad they bought.  It's marvelous.

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