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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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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