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He's the greatest fighter of all time. A sports icon that is loved throughout the world. A man driven by his ambition to be the best. Muhammad Ali is a name that to this day puts fear in the strongest of men. Hear from the people who knew him best, from experts of the world of boxing, relive the legendary fights and explore the life of boxing's greatest symbol, Ali. Written by
CERTAINLY NOT THE GREATEST DOCUMENTARY, THAT'S FOR SURE!
I just happened to see this film last night at NYC's great movie revival house, Film Forum, where a brand-new 35mm print has been unreeling for the past few weeks. Although I DID learn a great deal about this legendary sports figure from watching the film, I must say that I walked out of the theatre feeling extremely disappointed. Before explaining why, let me first say that the film is divided into two sections. The first was filmed in 1964 and '65 and is in black and white. It deals with the buildup and followup to Ali's (then Cassius Clay's) title bouts with Sonny Liston; the first in Florida, the second in Maine. We see all the hullabaloo surrounding the bouts, we see the weigh-ins and the trash talking that Clay used to be famous for; we see Clay goofin' around with the Fab 4, we are shown a drama class talking about Clay in a Harlem school, and on and on. It all builds suspensefully toward the big fights. But when it comes to the main events...nada! This is a documentary about one of the world's most legendary living boxers...and contains not a single moment of actual boxing! Not one!
Part two of the film takes place 10 years later, after Ali had been stripped of his title for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. This second part of the film is in beautiful color, and takes place in Zaire, right before Ali's comeback fight with George Foreman; the legendary "Rumble in the Jungle." Again, we see all the hoopla and buildup; we see the fighters meeting the Zairean president, Seko; we see the people of Zaire dancing and singing and discussing their favorites. Then it's fight time, and again--despite the fact that we see actual footage of the guys going into and leaving the ring--not a single frame of actual boxing! Only a few stills of the fight. I can't tell you how disappointed I was at this. I suppose that the rights to the actual boxing footage are tied up in legal disputes or would have required the filmmakers to shell out big bucks for their use, but the result is an incomplete portrait of this great athlete, at best. In addition to this glaring lack of actual boxing footage, we learn nothing of Clay's early life, what led him to become a boxer, and so on. Yes, it is interesting, in a time-capsulelike way, to look at the old film clips from the '60s, and to see Zaire as it was 30 years ago, but this doesn't help the viewer to understand Ali the man or Ali the athlete. We hear the expressions "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" and "Ali, bumba yay" over and over throughout the film, and still don't know why he was such a great fighter. This is certainly NOT the documentary that I was hoping for, and I can't imagine anyone walking out of this film feeling 100% satisfied.
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