After seeing Fred Wiseman’s 2010 documentary on “La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet,” I wanted to see more of his documentaries and this year, Wiseman has taken on another physical discipline: boxing.
This boxing gym isn’t filled with characters hoping to make a grand entrance on the world stage. This place is a refurbished garage that exists in a nondescript neighborhood in Austin, Texas. There’s nothing grand or mysterious about the locale. R. Lord’s Boxing Gym could be anywhere. This isn’t a gym to the stars, local or international. The people we see in this 38th feature by the 80-year-old documentarian are average people of all ages: men, women, school kids, women with their kids, semi-pros and amateurs. Lord feature prominently in this documentary and is listed as the star on IMDB, but the real star is the gym itself.
We don’t see savage beatings. We don’t get into the controversial medical side of what repeated blows to the head can possibly result in. We do hear how one man loves getting hit on the chin and the resulting buzz.
As with “La Danse” there is no narrative. What we see and what we hear are the real reactions, the rhythms of the gym. The filming took place around the time of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and we know this because Wiseman catches commentary on this. Yet there is nothing preachy here. There’s no message.
Like “La Danse” the pace is slow although here you can almost feel the grime along with the sweat. There’s no air of desperation, just people passing the time in a sport that is brutal, based on killing people, but about people who aren’t killers. They just want a gentle buzz but aren’t desperate enough to use this as a means to climb out of poverty. While “La Danse” showed people at the height of a physical discipline, “Boxing Gym” is more about the dilettantes.