Frederick Wiseman’s Bout With “Boxing Gym”

Frederick Wiseman’s Bout With “Boxing Gym” (photo)

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Like all of Frederick Wiseman’s films, his latest has a title that seems to say it all: “Boxing Gym” is basically an hour-and-a-half of sights and sounds from an Austin area boxing gym. As usual, though, there’s more going on here. In presenting glimpses of different trainees – be they kids enjoying a fun sport, ordinary folks getting a workout, or actual fighters preparing for their next bout – “Boxing Gym” takes on a meditative quality, but that mesmerizing quality is eventually breached when the real-life violence of the Virginia Tech massacre thousands of miles away intrudes on the boxers’ world and becomes a point of discussion.

The legendary director, whose films include such classics as “Titicut Follies,” “High School,” and “Public Housing,” has made the exploration of the nature of American institutions his great artistic project, and the boxing gym is a manifestation of one way violence presents itself in ordinary American life, so when the news of a different kind of violence, both anathema and analog to some of the issues raised in the film, gives the film an additional, haunting dimension.

10212010_wiseman2.jpgThat description perhaps makes Boxing Gym sound like an ironic – maybe even condescending – critique, but Wiseman’s filmmaking has always been deceptively complex. As the director himself admits, he’s a big fan of boxing, and what shines through in his new film is a characteristic combination of incisive observation, visual poetry, and a very cinematic brand of humanity. Wiseman recently took the time to chat with us about his amazing new film, and how it fits into his work.

Why a boxing gym?

I’ve always been interested in boxing. I’ve watched a lot of fights. In the ’70s, I used to go to Boston Garden and they’d broadcast big fights, like the Ali-Frazier fight, on 12 by 15 screens. It was like being at ringside. And I boxed a little bit – took some lessons when I was a kid. Quite aside from that, I’m also interested in the subject of violence, which cuts across a lot of my films, and boxing is a ritualized form of violence. Films like “Titicut Follies” and “Juvenile Court” show the state punishing people who’ve created violent acts, and films like “Basic Training” and “Maneuver” are illustrations of the state’s monopoly on violence. And “Domestic Violence” speaks for itself, obviously. Also, there’s a connection between the boxing movie and the two ballet movies I’ve made – in “La Danse,” the woman who runs the Paris Opera Ballet says at one point that a dancer is like a boxer. The similarity is obviously the need to control the body — in both cases, they have to train a long time and have complete control over their legs and their arms and their head and torso.

There’s also a resonance with previous films like “Essene,” which was set amongst a small community of monks, in the way that the characters are aspiring to an idealized version of themselves. Everybody aspires to be like the guys on the walls – the posters that totally cover the walls of the gym.

I think that’s a good point. It’s related to “Essene” and thematically related to “The Iceman Cometh,” in the sense that a lot of the boxers are always talking about tomorrow. And those posters, in one sense, represent the dream. They were marvelous, all those posters – some new, some fraying, some dirty, some old. And they became thematically relevant. They’re of boxers who had some form of success. And that marvelously run-down, seedy look of the gym became a character in the film. It’s a two-million-dollar set that you fall into. Lord’s Gym is the only gym I looked at for the film – I got there and I immediately saw that it was film material. It looked right, and I liked Richard Lord a lot. He’s a very nice man and an extremely good teacher and a smart handler of people. He talks to everybody in exactly the same way – whether they’re doctors and lawyers or illegal immigrants.

10212010_boxinggym5.jpgBecause this is a gym, with different people constantly coming in and out, the editing must have presented some structural challenges. You’re less focused on process, unlike with something like “State Legislature.”

It definitely presented a different set of issues. It was interesting – the film is composed of a lot of very short shots. “State Legislature” is sort of the other extreme – that’s a movie dependent on talk. This is a movie that’s very dependent on action. In fact, one of the reasons I made it was because I was coming off of “State Legislature” – even though it’s being released after “La Danse,” I actually shot it before. I deliberately wanted to do a more action-oriented subject.

How did that affect editing the film?

I enjoyed the editing a lot, because of all the problems associated with finding the appropriate rhythm, establishing a relationship between the sound and the action. The sound was complicated, but it was fun to do. The time clock, the sound of the gloves hitting the body or hitting the leather – that’s the music of the film, its rhythm. I joked to somebody the other day that it’s a Philip Glass score. It was interesting to me to try and cut the movie to the sounds of the gym. It’s not often you have that kind of opportunity. I had to decide when to use the sound of the clock, when not to use the sound of the clock, the relationship of the movements made by feet to the sound of the clock.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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