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Cinema Signal: Excellent documentarian by the dean of the form. A definite green.


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. "Boxing Gym"

Frederick Wiseman ("State Legislature," "Hospital"), an 80-year-old lawyer and documentarian to whom no part of our social fabric is off limits as a subject for the camera, focuses his sights on an Austin, Texas boxing gym co-owned and run by Richard William Lord. An ex-fighter, Lord is the chief trainer who is providing his community with a place to learn or practice boxing skills, stay in some kind of physical shape, and exchange war stories. As with most gymnasia and health clubs, it's a sort of adopted home for the local crowd.

It's that diversity in fitness level, personal goals, needs and expectations from men, women, children, doctors, lawyers, judges, business men and women, immigrants, professional boxers, people who want to become professional boxers, amateurs who just love the sport to teenagers who are trying to develop strength and assertiveness that prove, once again, what a master Wiseman is in capturing one piece of the social fabric at a time in his steady-on, unintrusive style.

With a documentary portfolio that covers ballet, gardening, domestic violence, modeling, politics, public housing, a zoo, a high school, a hospital, a racetrack and more, his legacy of work may be called a matrix or a tapestry which comprises the content of a time capsule for historians and social scientists.

Wiseman edits what has to be extensive footage down to the most telling vignettes which, in their brevity and quick pace, don't fail to capture the character of individuals in an activity that is an important to vital part of their life. In the amalgam, we get subtle drama, intense dedication, irony and humor. Surprises lurk in every exploratory moment as he roams the corners of the training facility with his cameraman: the ring, the office, the mats for a variety of exercises, the speed bags, the punching bags.

A component of the Wiseman storytelling style is the juxtaposition of a gym member and the countless boxing artifacts and boxing posters, illustrating, in a single composition, historical and background influences. The only things missing are sissies... and air conditioning.

The people in front of the lens know what they're a part of but ignore it as they converse freely, work out, share intimacies, show off and train.

All this activity and devotion to the "sweet science" (as pugilism was once called) has the effect of making a sedentary person want to find a place to work out or, at least, it should. It certainly provides a range of role models, ages, genders and skill level. We leave the premises once more enriched by Wiseman's close observation of a unique place of assemblage for a specific social purpose and expression we might not have otherwise stopped to appreciate in the rush of our own pursuits. It's not high drama and tension is scarce, but it exerts a grip on your attention through the composite realism of slices of life. Though Wiseman eschews the descriptive term, cinema verite', it's hard to avoid that characterization for what he does. For those who take the time to see a Wiseman documentary it will be virtually impossible to come away from it without feeling you're the better for having experienced it. The man who produces, directs, edits and does the does is a filmmaking champ with a winning combination and we note that his "Boxing Gym" is a critical hit.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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