28 April 2011
Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman/2010)
The aural rhythms of the gym are particularly notable for the extraordinary impression they arouse: the sound of rapid punches to speed bags, the constant buzz from the training timer, the white noise of friendly banter in the background and the bustle of lives lived as a series of light, breathy or grunted movements all commingle into an vividly energetic soundtrack. It’s a visually arresting film, too: light falling on the gym floor, frenetic, dance-like close-ups of nimble-footed boxers and still shots of the city in bright daylight all display Wiseman’s skill with crisp, easeful compositions. (It's remarkable, and revealing of his organic immersion in his subject matter, that Wiseman chose two projects in sequence - this and La Danse: The Paris Ballet Opera - that find strong visual form in elegant footwork.)
Of course, the telling snapshots of individual gym members resonate most, right from the start. I was immediately interested in each person’s lives, the fleeting ins and outs of their daily grind, within and away from the gym, and the collective effect all the members made on me in rotation. It's a portrait of defence and exercise within the confines of a specific microcosm and it paints a vibrant picture. These are all fascinating individuals. As ever with Wiseman, I could’ve happily spent many more hours with them. One image, briefly included late in the film, stands out: a boxer practising in the gym car park near a huge tree looming over him, swaying in the breeze; man and nature, the grand and the everyday, captured together, with zero fuss.
Boxing Gym and La Danse: The Paris Ballet Opera both featured in my Top Ten Films of 2010.