FILMMAKER: Frederick Wiseman
REVIEWED BY: Kathleen B. Jones
I’ve been on the road non-stop since August. Finally got home this weekend and first thing I wanted to do was go see a doc in a movie theater. I dragged my fella to go see Frederick Wisemen’s new film “Boxing Gym.” I felt sorry that I made him sit through it with me.
“Boxing Gym” takes place at a boxing gym – shocking right? – it’s a gym in Austin, Texas with a diverse clientele ranging from children to the elderly, women and men, all races, who love to come into the gym and box. The audience gets to be very familiar with the rhythm of the gym, the sound of punches, the increased skill of the characters. That’s neat. For an hour.
Frederick Wisemen is a known master documentary filmmaker. Recently, he was the honoree at Silverdocs, the DC area’s biggest documentary film festival. I know all that, but I have actually seen very few of his films. They are not available on Netflix, they are only seen in the occasional library, once in awhile on PBS, and in theaters. His style is pure cinema verite, i.e. filming what happens with no narration, no music, no additional lighting or sound effects. It’s considered to be the most “true to life” style of filmmaking.
After an hour of no storyline, no sound but boxing and chatting, and no music, you get wicked bored. I love the idea of pure cinema verite. But in practice it’s just not much cooler than actually living.
I watch documentaries to experience a new life. These characters in “The Boxing Gym” are just normal people – you know, people who like to work out, but that’s it. Again, it’s neat for a bit. It’s good to have a minute where you are present in a scene and really look at what happens in life around you. But after an hour of someone else’s perfectly normal life passing by on a screen you start thinking, “Um, I could be outside experiencing my perfectly normal life instead of sitting here in this chair watching some guy jump rope.”
Nothing much happening. Nothing’s at stake, nothing’s really changing. And frankly, being stuck in a tiny gym for two hours – it’s actually kind of claustrophobic. It’s not unlike watching someone type on a computer for about two hours straight. There’s a rhythm to the typing, and a beauty to some of the angles, but do you really want to watch it for two hours? And pay $11 for the privilege?
But I will give credit to the film because I did go home and try out some of the boxing moves I watched in the film – and I realized that it is pretty fun. Boxing would be cool. I might try it sometime. Maybe I did get a little something out of it. So 1) you are person who likes boxing or are curious about it – you should watch this film or 2) you are a student of documentary film who wants to learn more about cinema verite – you should watch this film. But if you are 3) a person who believes that if they spend $11 on something you should get some entertainment on that value – yeah, skip it.
–Two out of five cheers
–Kathleen B. Jones (Katy J)