by Tony Dayoub
Two vastly different documentaries impressed me at yesterday's press screenings. Each in their own way, Inside Job and Boxing Gym take subjects we already think we know about and make them more accessible to the viewer, and isn't that what the best of such films do?
The opening of Charles Ferguson's Inside Job had me worried for a minute. The film is one of the most attractive documentaries I've seen in some time. It is slickly shot on widescreen digital video focusing on expansive vistas—first of Iceland, then New York—two of the epicenters of the present financial crisis which the movie delineates. The fact that Matt Damon is narrator is only the capper to what was already a long list of characteristics making me wonder whether this was going to be another one of those docs which feels it has to sex up its dry subject with stylistic bells and whistles.
Happily, I can report I need not have been concerned. While some may accuse the film of a slight liberal slant, Ferguson (No End in Sight) takes all political sides to task, indicting everyone from Reagan to Clinton, Bush to Obama (and all of their economic advisers), for ignoring what was fast becoming evident to many in the world of economics: that a meltdown of catastrophic proportions was clearly approaching us with some speed. And Ferguson accomplishes all of this by utilizing the aesthetic tools I mentioned earlier to keep what is essentially a "talking head"-style documentary from devolving into a boring lecture. For someone like myself, completely tone-deaf to the subtleties and vagaries of financial instruments like credit-default swaps and the like, Inside Job simplifies without being simplistic.
The great Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies) utilizes an opposite approach to the titular subject of Boxing Gym. In his signature non-intrusive style, he simply lets his often hand-held camera simply observe its surroundings, in this case Lord's Boxing Gym in Austin, Texas. There is no music, no narrator, simply the camera unobtrusively pointing at one corner of the gym or another, eavesdropping on conversations which begin to piece together a mosaic of this microcosm. The person with who we most become familiar is its proprietor, the softspoken Richard Lord. Like it's relatively benign owner, the gym is a warm place which welcomes people of all ages, races, genders, etc. This of course makes it ideal for Wiseman to train his eye on all of its members, providing us with a cross-section of experienced and non-experienced partakers in the sport to help us delve into their motivations and mindset. The result is an energetic movie propelled by its own recurring ambient sounds and sights.
Inside Job is playing at the 48th New York Film Festival at 6 p.m. Friday, October 1st, and 9 p.m. Monday, October 4th, at the Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, 1941 Broadway (at 65th Street), New York, NY 10023. Boxing Gym is playing at 6:15 p.m. Monday, October 4th, at the Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam), upper level, New York, NY 10023. For more ticket information go online here, or call (212) 875-5050
Inside Job also opens in limited release Friday, October 8th.
Boxing Gym also opens in limited release Friday, October 22nd.