FREDERICK WISEMAN has one of the lightest touches among documentary filmmakers. In sharp contrast to the stylish editing, voiceover narration, stock footage, and animation splicing that characterizes many popular submissions to the genre, Wiseman leaves his footage largely alone. While not solely observational, his style is almost completely without narrative arc, thesis, or argument, which can be challenging to the modern attention span. The result is more of a collage of interests, notably in human physicality and violence. And while past films (Domestic Violence, Titicut Follies) have addressed these subjects in more sinister contexts, Boxing Gym is interested in the ritualization of violent combat within a culture that is as diverse and inclusive as it is brutal.
In choosing Austin's Lord's Gym—founded by wiry rat-tailed ex-pro fighter Richard Lord, who presides with a no-bullshit air of calm authority—Wiseman couldn't have delivered a more quintessential scene. Lord's embodies all of the qualities familiar to the traditional culture of boxing, one of the rare athletic institutions that has never been segregated along lines of race, and which continues to welcome anyone regardless of age or (now) gender, so long as they are willing to work their hardest. At once a noble and humble sport, Wiseman invites the audience to be a fly on boxing's wall, plain and simple, which is great, but sometimes a fly's life is a little too uneventful for the restless.