Bodies at Rest and in Motion
Published on October 22nd, 2010 | by Carlos J. Segura0
Chances are that anyone reading this has a place of respite they really feel they can call their own. Such places, whether they be physical or mental places, houses of worship, video games, swimming pools, meditation rooms, books and so on carry value as metaphorical or even literal rest-stops. Suspension of disbelief, communion with something higher, the feeling that you’re in a world different from your own or simply being in a trance; however you care to word it they all get at the same feeling, regardless of how valid one finds any of these activities to be. However for the purposes of this review the most appropriate phrase would probably be “in the zone.” Frederick Wiseman’s “Boxing Gym” simultaneously puts you in the zone and is about being in the zone.
The eponymous gym is nothing fancy to gaze at. The walls are covered in boxing memorabilia, it’s relatively small and the equipment doesn’t seem to be especially new or cutting-edge, though, that’s not to say it looks very old or bad. I mention this because anyone who hasn’t seen clips or stills might expect something that looks especially outstanding for why else would you pick this place out of all of America’s gyms? David Barton’s Astor Place athletic club this is not. Nevertheless, people do come to this relatively affordable gym and not just those in the lower-income bracket; Richard Lord, the man who runs it, makes a point of noting that the gym’s demographics are varied in terms of socio-economic backgrounds. Aside from Lord’s breakdown of the clientele the differences in ethnic, socio-economic, age and gender backgrounds aren’t really discussed amongst the subjects in the film.
What is remarkable and gratifying is the spirit of community in this gymnasium. People being plugged into their headphones is more the exception than the norm so to speak, and no fitness Nazis are to be found, quite the contrary; people are very friendly and happy to give each other pointers and help or they’re simply more than happy to engage each other in conversation. Conversation topics and tones along with body language suggest a relaxed and casual atmosphere. In between these scenes of people conversing you’re treated to scenes of the boxers training, some displaying a prowess that, in lieu of music, manages to create beautiful, almost entrancing visual rhythms through simple repetition of actions; one of my favorite moments has a man training in such a way that it just about looks like hip-hop dancing. Perhaps it’s incorrect to note that there is no music. The three by four beats of punching bags getting hit sound just as musical as when a percussive instrument is played.
The harmony and balance found in “Boxing Gym” is beautiful and free of any sort of after-school special tone, in case you suspected the movie of such a thing. If anything the cooperation, dedication, hard work, support, and commitment to physical and mental health seems to almost be taken for granted because the aesthetic approach is so casual and free of any overt stylistic bells and whistles, much like the gym itself. Wiseman’s camera is often still, intimate and content to be visually neutral. Wiseman makes you feel like you’re almost discovering the place for yourself. The range of people and conversations you’re allowed into and introduced to along with an extensive survey of the place itself has you feeling like you’re being allowed to wander wherever you want.
During a scene where Mr. Lord is meeting with a potential recruit the way he pitches the place is so relaxed and free of the aggressive peddling that is found in most gyms that it’s almost a little strange. Luckily this is one gym that doesn’t need a hard sell; It’s an entrancing reminder of the best of ourselves.