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Time Out New York Project: Issue #786, October 21-27, 2010
Dir. Frederick Wiseman. 2010. N/R. 91mins. Documentary.
The great documentarian Frederick Wiseman scales down the sprawl of recent work like La Danse in this marvelous profile of Lord’s Boxing Gym in Austin. It runs a brisk, uncharacteristic hour and a half, and the space itself — as compared with, say, the snaky, cavernous corridors of the Paris Opera Ballet — could easily be captured in a single 360-degree pan. But Wiseman has often been able to find the major in the minor, and that’s certainly the case here.
Housed in a nondescript, garage-like structure, Lord’s is a gathering-place for people of all ages, races and genders. They come to work out and land (friendly) punches, but mainly to commune about the issues of the day and life in general. Wiseman uses his time-honored observational technique — shooting on 16mm; no talking-head interviews; no identifying titles or narration — so that the themes emerge gradually from quotidian details.
Between exercise routines and sparring matches, people discuss subjects from the clerical (prices of enrollment) to the philosophical (reflections on the Virginia Tech massacre — Wiseman filmed Boxing Gym in 2007). The ongoing immigration debate is implicitly referenced in several scenes, most notably when one of the gym’s Hispanic members demonstrates some cumbia-style dance moves to a cordial, yet puzzled, white patron. (The unspoken tensions are clear, though the banter remains kind.) And the omnipresent beep of an Everlast countdown clock lends a profound sense of impermanence to the proceedings. Indeed, you leave the film feeling like Wiseman has given you a glimpse of one of those ephemeral ports in a storm to which all of us retreat at times.—Keith Uhlich
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