Documentary by Frederick Wiseman
While most boxing movies center on personal stories of adversity that culminate with a triumph in the ring, “Boxing Gym,” by Frederick Wiseman, avoids such cliches. In this mesmerizing documentary, Wiseman trains his camera on Lord’s Gym in Austin, Texas, a boxing gym patronized by people of all shapes, ages and skill levels.
It would have been easy for Wiseman to follow the arc of a few select boxers, as documentaries often do. Wiseman isn’t mining for personal stories, though. Rather, in the most unobtrusive manner possible — he does not interview anyone or lay down any soundtrack — he simply shoots footage of men, women and children in training. Within this energized microcosm, people are dead focused on their exercises, some of which are familiar (pummeling the punching bag) and others of which are home-brewed (slamming a sledgehammer against a tire). Sometimes Wiseman films casual conversations between gym members as they take breaks or advise each other with tips, wandering into their lives and then wandering right back out.
I could have done with 15 fewer minutes. Having said that, the more time you spend in the gym — Wiseman lingers a full hour in the space before showing a single exterior shot of Austin — the more entranced you become with the community. There isn’t a corner of this intimate room that isn’t buzzing with rhythmic activity, and Wiseman’s intuitive camerawork captures a meditative beauty in all those shuffling feet, jabbing fists and hustling bodies. For a documentary about a contact sport, “Boxing Gym” is wonderfully tranquil.