Boxer Rebellion (1994): Celia Cotelo’s Docu

Sundance Film Fest 1994–Defined by striking visuals and dizzying sounds, but devoid of much substance, Boxer Rebellion is an impressionistic documentary about a Wall Street yuppie who became a professional boxer at middle-age.  
Celia Cotelo’s ambitious effort to portray the inner workings of an obsessive psyche is so intense and so hard to watch that it might be limited almost exclusively to the festival and art-house circuits.
David Lawrence, the protagonist of Boxer Rebellion, a wealthy and powerful Wall Street stockbroker, was quite content with his life until he discovered the allure, risk, and challenge of the boxing world. At 44, Lawrence was not young, but with the assistance of a great trainer–and obsessive urge to succeed in a milieu totally different from his own–he mastered the necessary skills and even excelled at this brutal sports.
Indie New York filmmaker Celia Cotelo should be congratulated for resisting a traditional form to tell the bizarre odyssey of her unusual hero. In moments–but only in moments–she achieves brilliance, as when Lawrence is dressed as a surreal clown who fondles a Barbie Doll, or hangs dollar bills on a clothesline to dry, while expressing his inner thoughts and emotions about boxing.
Though innovative in style, Boxer Rebellion falls short of its goal to explore a complex mind and to provoke the viewers about their own anxieties and aggressions. Clearly, Cotelo has tried to make an innovative film, the cinematic corollary of a poem, but cognitively, Lawrence’s statements never go beyond the fraudulent existentialism of “boxing make me feel young,” or addressing the audience directly with “I am what you’re afraid to be.” 
After 30 minutes or so, the surreal imagery and distorted sounds become repetitious and the viewers are exposed to a dazzling parade of disjointed symbols and metaphors. Be Warned: Boxer Rebellion had the largest number of walk-outs of all the documentaries shown this year at Sundance.
 
Credits
Executive producer, David Lawrence. 
Directed, edited by Celia Cotelo. Camera (B&W), Jean Marie Meyer; music, Meyer, Mark Linden; sound, Linden. 
Sundance Film Festival, Park City, January 25, 1994. 
Running time: 73 min.