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NYFF 2010. Frederick Wiseman's "Boxing Gym"

"Frederick Wiseman has filmed subjects as institutionally complex as a state legislature and as socially diverse and geographically broad as entire towns (in Aspen and Belfast, Maine)." Leo Goldsmith at Not Coming to a Theater Near You: "His 38th film, by contrast, considers a comparatively small space, one that seems rather narrowly defined in its purpose, import, and range of activity. It is a boxing gym, not a great deal larger than the boxing ring it surrounds, but large enough to contain a small gradient of the population of Austin, Texas: women and men, professional and amateur, of varied ethnicities, classes, and professional and educational backgrounds, each engaged in the determined, grueling, rhythmic ritual of boxing.... What boxing, for the most part, is not — at least within the heavily padded and postered walls of Lord's gym — is a form of violence. If anything, it is a way of forestalling or channeling the energies of violence; more often, it is a way of avoiding it."

"Boxing Gym is not one of Frederick Wiseman's major works," writes Andrew Schenker in Slant, "nor is hindsight much likely to alter this initial assessment. Although the documentarian's greatness resides not so much in single films as in an imposing, cumulative body of work, there are clear differentiations to be made among the individual items of his oeuvre, and Wiseman's latest lacks the sweep and variety of experience on display in Central Park, the relentless, if distanced, critical edge of Welfare, or the serious ethical considerations discussed at length in Near Death. But what Boxing Gym offers instead is a privileged peek into a little pocket of something close to a functioning democratic system — at least as far as such a proposition is possible in a country that spells out all of its interactions in capitalist terms."

"In contrast to much of his oeuvre, Boxing Gym is not an overtly biting and unflinching dissection of an American institution," adds Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "It shares a more similar spirit to his last film, La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet, as both focus more directly on a group of determined individuals who like pushing their bodies to sweaty extremes.... As Wiseman cuts back-and-forth between scenes of grueling physical exertion and relaxed conversations between gym members, Boxing Gym becomes a hopeful portrait of America at its most diverse, optimistic, and motivated."

"There's no narrative and no star," notes Elise Nakhnikian at the House Next Door, "just layers of information accumulating like paint on a canvas, in the old-school direct-cinema style Wiseman helped invent. He even uses 16mm on this film, though he has since had to switch to HD because even he now has difficulty getting funded to use film (Boxing Gym was underwritten largely by several PBS outlets). 'I regret that,' he said of his switch to HD in the Q&A after the screening. 'I don't think the image quality is quite as good, and I don't like editing on an Avid — perhaps because I have 150 years of experience on a Steenbeck.'"


"If this concise look at a meeting place for people hoping to better themselves — or regain past glories — isn't a complete KO, it's because you can wring only so much from footage of people pummeling punching bags and sparring in the ring," writes Time Out New York's David Fear. "But average Wisemania is still a weight class above the work of most doc-makers, and the way he keeps circling back to the testing of physical limits offers an intriguing look at the spiritual need to sweat it out."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes — and a note on the challenges of projecting Boxing Gym from Daniel Kasman when he caught it in Toronto.

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