Boxing Gym is 80-year-old documentarian Frederick Wiseman's 38th feature. Despite, or perhaps because of, its relatively modest length and ordinary subject matter, it seems a crowning accomplishment. For all but five of its 91 minutes, the movie remains within the well-worn, cheerfully cluttered confines of R. Lord's Boxing Gym, a refurbished garage in a nondescript Austin neighborhood that serves a multi-ethnic, mixed-gender and –body type assortment of schoolkids, young semi-pros, and middle-aged amateurs. An artist who constructs his pieces from chunks of reality and lets reality speak for itself, Wiseman develops a point of view without a narrative. The filmmaker watches a mother carefully wrap her young son's hands, eavesdrops on Richard Lord reassuring an epileptic child who wants to box, and listens to a woman's plan to buy her husband "time to be in the ring" for his 40th birthday. Emphasizing boxing as discipline rather than contest, Wiseman withholds an actual match until the movie's final minutes—and it's a shock when it comes. However sporting, the slugfest is primitive enough to restore every doubt you might have harbored about the sweet science but repressed during the course of the film; the adversaries are no longer mastering themselves but inflicting pain on each other. Wiseman, who perhaps harbors doubts himself, uses the fight to make a cosmic segue from the gym to the outside world as if to note: Such is life on Earth.
One of the female fighters at Lord's Gym.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Nov. 12–Thurs., Nov. 18. Not rated. 91 minutes.