Muhammad Ali
The Greatest

Rumble, boy, rumble. Ali stands over the KO'd Liston in 1965.
dir William Klein
with Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Don King, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Angelo Dundee, Bundini Brown, Sonji Ali, Elijah Muhammad, Mobutu Sese Seko, Robert Goulet
release UK 8.Feb.02
74/France 1h51

3 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
This documentary had never been released in the UK, so the timing seems about right, what with the Michael Mann-Will Smith bio on general release and poised for Oscar nominations. But the fact is: This is a fantastic doc, much better than the Oscar-winning When We Were Kings and obviously an important source for Ali, which covers exactly the same time period. Klein's camera is always moving, clinging closely to his subjects and catching the edgy rhythms and energies of each scene. The film consists basically of four short films: The first three are in gritty black and white, following Ali from his first title win against Sonny Liston in Miami 1964, then the aborted fight in Boston and finally a big rematch in Maine 1965. We then jump ahead to 1974 and the images gain a lurid colour as we're in Zaire for Ali's comeback, the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman.

Klein avoids all of the obvious footage in lieu of behind-the-scenes intimacy. The matches themselves are shown in freeze frame; everything else is loud and brash, catching the chaos of the environment. It also picks out the issues beneath the surface, most notably through Ali's constant comments on religion, politics, race and history. What emerges is very strong stuff--both provocative and quietly thoughtful. It shows Ali as the consummate self-promoter who actually has the courage of his convictions. He's outspoken, unconventionally smart and subtly brave. And the film takes a completely open-handed approach, never telling us what to think, just presenting the scenes and letting us make up our own mind. It never imagines what happens away from the cameras; there's nothing here about Ali's private life. And while this rather jumpy, spotty approach may not give us the full picture, it still helps us understand the legend in a way no other film can.
themes cert 15 6.Feb.02

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2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall