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A.K.A. Cassius Clay (1970) was a documentary made during the time that
Muhammed Ali was on "hiatus" from the world of professional boxing due
to his strong religious beliefs. The film makers use a lot of valuable
achieved footage, interviews with the Champ himself and those that were
heavily involved in his life. A lot of classic Malcolm X footage can be
found in this film as well. If you want to get a look into the life of
the "Greatest Heavyweight Boxer of all time" then I advise you to watch
this film. No dramatical theatrics. Just the man himself.
I would also recommend THE GREATEST as well. If you want to get a full picture of Muhammed Ali. I wish that somebody would do a film of his post-Zaire boxing career. Now that would be a fascinating film to see the "Elvis" phase of Muhammed Ali. I've read Ferdie Pacheco's book. Someone in Hollywood needs to make a big screen version of it.
An odd blend of documentary, hagiography, exploitation picture, and polemic about Muhammad Ali made with The Greatest's full cooperation during the lean period between his fall from favorprimarily for refusing to serve in Vietnamand his triumphant comeback in Zaire. Ali may have been down when this was shot (one can't shake the sense that financial pressure is behind his participation) but he's far from out. The movie makes all the usual stops on the Clay tour: poor Louisville upbringing, Golden Gloves, meteoric rise to champ, etc., floridly narrated by Richard Kiley. What makes this movie worth seeing, though, are interstitial conversations between Ali and his lifelong mentor and coach, Cus d'Amato. They know one another so well and have been at this so long that their improvised dialogue shakes out like two old vaudeville pros taking potshots at one another. Ali keeps boasting and d'Amato keeps getting under the champ's skin; their bits are truly funny and fascinating to watch. (The segments where d'Amato taunts his pupil by suggesting he'd be no match for great boxers of the past are particularly rich.) We'll never see another superstar like Ali, whose trademark bravado was still no match for his enormous talent. This cheesy little picture gives us a glimpse into the dynamic behind the legend. The deep-seated love between this unlikely pair is unmistakable. We realize how lucky Ali was having d'Amato in his corner. The little guy is fearless of the giant towering over him; they're both butterflies and bees.
This 1970 documentary was filmed while Muhammad Ali's future in the ring was still uncertain. The film posits a possible future for Ali as a Black revolutionary, and there's plenty of evidence presented to support that possibility. Of course, things didn't turn out that way, and Ali resumed his ring career. Surprisingly sympathetic, this film is a valuable artefact that deserves renewed attention in this post-Will Smith period of Ali's life.
A.k.a. Cassius Clay (1970)
*** (out of 4)
Richard Kiley hosts and narrates this documentary that covers the early career of Muhammad Ali, as the title states, a.k.a. Cassius Clay. Referred to as "The Louisville Lip," this documentary covers his early rise in the boxing ring and eventual fall from grace due to him dodging the Vietnam War.
A.K.A. CASSIUS CLAY is the film I watched the day after Ali's passing and it's certainly one of the better documentaries on his early career. The documentary ends asking if Ali is anything special to where he should be able to refuse the Vietnam war and it wonders if he will ever see a boxing ring again. Of course, we now know what Ali would eventually do in the ring once he was able to get back in.
If you're a fan of Ali then this documentary is certainly worth watching because there's plenty of footage from not only his boxing matches but also various press conferences and other scenes where we can hear his famous mouth running wide. The boxing footage will probably get the most attention with the highlight being the match with Sonny Liston where Ali finally broke through.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having lived through the era, the value of this film for me was in bringing back my youthful memories of the young Cassius Clay on the way up the hierarchy of the boxing world and becoming Heavyweight Champion with that stunning victory over Sonny Liston. Who could ever forget Clay's colorful rhyming pronouncements of when he'd take down the next challenger, or his declaration that "I'm the prettiest thing in the ring today...". Narrated by Richard Kiley, this documentary style film offers up a handful of Clay's earliest boxing matches and his affiliation with the Black Muslim movement and it's leader Elijah Muhammad. Brash and bombastic, and now known as Muhammad Ali, the champion was indicted for draft evasion and held true to his religious principles while defying the government. Stripped of his title, Ali became a prime symbol of the rebellious era of the Sixties. Personally, I was conflicted as a follower of Ali during this period, but felt that he had the courage of his convictions when faced with losing everything he had in the way of money and status. The picture closes with Kiley's speculation on where Ali's future might take him, so watching the story today is almost a moot point for anyone who followed Ali's career up until his passing earlier this year on June 3rd, 2016.
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