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The sport of life


After making a three hour documentary on ballet, it’s understandable that Frederick Wiseman turned his attention to boxing. Both sports (I’d consider ballet a sport after seeing “La Danse”) have physical demands, which through the right training can be mastered. But it takes time and energy to get there.

As with anything we want to accomplish, we have to put in the hours if we plan on being any good at it. Malcolm Gladwell made a good argument for suggesting the magic number is 10,000 hours.

At the gym in this documentary, people put in their time. Some have fought in the ring, and share their experiences of loss, and the desire, or lack of desire, they have about going in for another fight. One guy is ready to call it quits. Some can’t wait. Some don’t train for the fight, but the fitness. One young mother brings her infant while she tries to shed a few pounds after her pregnancy. One young man shows up with a black eye, with a pretty clear reason for joining.

This is a “real” boxing gym, based in Austin, Texas. On their website they say:

When you step into Richard Lord’s Boxing Gym you are not just walking into any sweaty, hot gym, but you are stepping into an Austin monument(Best Public Art Trend 1999).

I am not sure why it is a monument, according to the Austin Chronicle. But for the people who come here to train, it is an institution.

I was always curious about boxing gyms, because I thought they were exclusive places only hardened ex cons visited after doing time. Okay not really, but I did always perceive them as the working class version of a fancy health club. That said, this gym could not be more inclusive. But like a health club, there are a few rules to follow if you want to join.

No picking up chicks for a date. And don’t come looking for a fight.

Every trainer is in their own world here. The training sessions have their own visual rhythms, which Wiseman finds with his editing.

My girlfriend said anyone could have made this movie. There aren’t talking head interviews, there is just the gym, and the people, and Richard Lord, the owner who oversees everything. And I agree on the point that visually speaking this could have been filmed by anyone. But what I like about Wiseman is he finds the right people to shoot. Some people are more interesting to watch than others. In every documentary he makes, Wiseman finds those people.

The institution itself is not always so interesting. Ballet, boxing…it’s the people that make it tick, like Richard Lord, who make it interesting.


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