You might expect a movie about a boxing gym to be full of sweat and aggression, but Wiseman paints Lord’s Gym in Austin as nearly utopian—a place where every day, young and old, male and female, American and non-American join together for exercise, lighthearted sparring and small talk. A girl jumps rope; babies and even dogs are welcome. Only belatedly, when a group goes for a jog, does the film exit this environment. Chatting about the Virginia Tech massacre, Wiseman’s subjects finds themselves faced with a rare intrusion from the outside world.
For those who know the director only for his Boschian institutional portraits (Titicut Follies), Boxing Gym might seem strangely serene. The elder statesman of American documentary cinema, Wiseman retains a commitment to noninvolvement principles that can be maddening. (In 2001’s Domestic Violence, his trademark reluctance to ask questions seemed like an evasion.) But in Boxing Gym, he proves once again he’s as much a formalist as a journalist, at least as interested in conveying the rhythms and textures of a place as he is in his subjects. The emphasis on bodies in motion has led some to see Boxing Gym as a companion piece to Wiseman’s last documentary, La Danse: The Paris Opera Ballet. That film necessarily covered more ground, but Boxing Gym, while never revelatory, is also far less remote: a portrait of an oasis of cultural exchange that should be—and perhaps is—a microcosm of America.