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.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.