Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Boxing Gym is a documentary, perhaps unsurprisingly about a boxing gym.  If you closed your eyes and imagined what it’d be like to be invisible at a boxing gym for a period, incapable of interacting with your surroundings and suffering from selective attention deficit disorder, then you would have a good sense what to expect with this film.  Except of course for the fact that your preconceived notions about such an environment may not 100% match up with the true voyeuristic experience…except when it does.

I’m perhaps not the greatest person to weigh in on this film, never having been an especially big fan of boxing. Sure, I’ve enjoyed the sweet science on screen from time to time. The film had a great deal to quietly convey about the sport even if it didn’t directly address the biggest mystery of cinematic boxing – aka was Rocky’s strategy of letting folks tire themselves out by kicking his ass for most of the fight only to then come from behind as stupid as it looked?  It’s worth repeating the “about the sport” part.  This isn’t a film about the next heavyweight contender.  Though if one came out of this sort of environment I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that.

Director Frederick Wiseman‘s camera is a quiet unobtrusive presence in this Austin gym – in fact he doesn’t seem to interact with his subjects at all.  He’s cut the clearly many many hours of footage to give a fly on the wall view that feels very authentic.  The gym as shown is extremely democratic – clients ranging from the very young to the very old, blue collar to white collar, male and female. All populating an “I’d like to buy the world a coke” universe of happy coexistence under the watchful eye of owner/trainer Richard Lord.

The film has, to steal a phrase from the marketing literature, a “meditative style.”  Which often is a code for boring as all heck.  And at times it does dip in that direction in the film’s slower moments.  You should definitely not go see it when you’re tired, as the gentle rhythms of the gym can definitely knock you back into serious slumber.  There are extended portions where we’re just watching people train – which can toe a bizarre line between transfixing and slumber.  At least it did for me.

I’ve read descriptions of the inherent poetry of boxing. Which in the limited viewing of professional bouts that I’ve done has been not so easy to see. This film does demonstrate the truthfulness of that poetry with extended, dialog-free shots of footwork and handwork that will leave you impressed and jealous at the same time.

Observed moments of a myriad of training activities (from the reasonable seeming to the unusual) are intermixed with folks in the gym talking. These conversations range from their aspirations inside and outside the ring to contemporaneous analysis of the Virginia Tech shootings.  Perhaps you can draw a parallel between the structured sport violence in the gym and that of society outside, though for me that’s quite a stretch.

This is definitely a niche audience film, and for those who enjoy a slow, deep look at something it may be worth checking out.  It’s very well put together from an editing perspective, and I appreciated getting a chance to live in another world for 90 minutes without having a break a sweat.  I can’t say it’s my usual sort of fare nor that I loved it – more like a “Hey, that was at least somewhat interesting” reaction to the affair.  Which still puts it significantly higher than a fair number of flicks I’ve caught this year.