By Symi Rom-Rymer
Lord’s Gym, Austin, Texas:
Clang, clang, clang.
In a small, white shingled building hidden behind a Goodwill store, posters of famous fights and fighters frozen in position overlap on the walls. Worn boxing rings and masking tape-encased punching bags reign supreme.
In this atmosphere of muscles and sweat, Frederick Wiseman’s new film, Boxing Gym unfolds. Wiseman–the Jewish octogenarian filmmaker whose most recent film La Danse took us into the rarified world of professional ballet, now turns his eye to the equally athletic, if more violent, world of boxing.
Boxing Gym (now playing as part of the New York Film Festival), like many of Wiseman’s films, focuses on the minutiae of every day life. Rarely leaving the confines of Lord’s, everyone and no one is at the center of the story. Like the gym itself, the film is universal. Men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor, Americans and immigrants, white, black, and Hispanic–all are welcome and all are captured on camera. With no hero or even narrative arc to follow, the audience is nonetheless quickly drawn into Lord’s hypnotic world. Nothing matters beyond the rhythmic pounding of leather against leather, the grunts of the athletes, and the ever-present beeping of the Everlast timer.
But this movie is not just about boxing. It also is about the deeper communal ties that form within the walls of the boxing gym. Under the watchful eye of the owner Richard Lord, the gym is at once a therapists’ couch, a daycare center, and a refuge as well as a place to train. Mothers leave their babies ringside while they spar, older men philosophize by the free weights, and economic woes are discussed and dismissed.
Although titled Boxing Gym, don’t let that fool you. This film isn’t just about boxing. It is also about desire, focus a hunger to push oneself to the limit. And it is also about championing community. In a country torn apart by social and political strife, it’s almost ironic that all it takes is a boxing gym to bring people together peacefully. But as Wiseman vividly demonstrates, Lord’s is no ordinary gym.
Symi Rom-Rymer writes and blogs about Jewish and Muslim communities in the US and Europe.