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Festivale Autumn 1997

Movie still, Muhammad Ali in When We Were Kings, Festivale film reviews; kings01.jpg - 8065 Bytes When We Were Kings

"I live in America but Africa is the home of the black man. I was a slave 400 years ago and now I'm going home to fight among my brothers."
- Muhammad Ali

"Africa is the cradle of civilization, everybody's home is Africa."
- George Foreman

Movie Still, Documentary, When We Were Kings, Muhammed Ali; kings02.jpg - 12864 Bytes It is very difficult to sympathise with a man (not Ali) who complains that his wife leaves him because he is black, therefore poor, not white, therefore rich. So, what? Women don't leave men because they're whingers or abusive, or boring, or racist, or sexist, or lazy? Give me a break. Where's the relevance to a boxing match?

Was the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight about race? It was between two black men in a black country (so the film says). Muhammad Ali is portrayed as intelligent, philanthropic and cute, George Foreman is shown as terse, moody, and selfish. Ali went on to greater heights after winning this match, Foreman spiralled into a two-year depression.

This is an award-winning documentary, but it lacks several vital details. For example, Muhammad Ali was found guilty of evading the draft, he escaped on a technicality, but the film glosses over that (it was an illegal wire-tap on Ali's phone).

We are told that the press discovered Zaire and the black heritage during the six-week delay caused by a sparring injury to George Foreman, but mostly we see the press following Muhammad Ali around.

I found the final montage unsatisfying. Maybe it's the AV generation, but I wanted a more dynamic construction of images and so on. Otherwise, this is an important piece of social documentary.

If, as they say, we are losing our sense of history, or more to the point, we are losing our respect for the contributions others make to our lives, then perhaps we should bring back the double features. Maybe show documentaries such as this with Star Wars, give people some texture with their glitz.

Muhammad Ali was 'the mouth', the heavyweight champion, the ego champion of the world. When I was young, he seemed very old, very big, very loud and very arrogant. Now I am older, he seems to have been very young, charming, caring, and the master of affirmations.

When Muhammad Ali challenged George Foreman, it wasn't the battle of the titans, it was a media circus, and a demonstration of the power of charisma. Two black men led an invasion of Zaire (invited by the ruthless dictator, and lured by $5 million each). They brought with them the sports press, a music festival, the music press, and Leon Gast.

That was in 1974. In 1997 after years of slowly paying for laboratory costs and cutting three versions of the proposed documentary of the music festival, Gast has produced a tribute to Muhammad Ali.

If, as Spike Lee says, the young don't know heroes from two years ago, then films like this are necessary. We need a sense of the past, a knowledge of those who fought for what we have today, in order to appreciate what we have, and to continue to develop as a people.

This contention is in stark relief with one of the underlying 'issues' of the film - that Americans whose ancestors came from Africa are Africa-hyphen-Americans. If the people do not have a sense of their contemporary history, they do seem to tie themselves to their grandparents and their great-grandparents with webs of iron, heavily impregnated with hatred and resentment. For some reason finding your roots is about bleeding into and for the past, not finding peace and facing the future with renewed, informed vigour.


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by Ali Kayn

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Just the facts:

Title: When We Were Kings (Documentary)
Written by:
no credit
Directed by: Leon Gast
Produced by: David Sonenberg (exec.); Leon Gast, Taylor Hackford.
Edited by: Leon Gast, Taylor Hackford, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Keith Robinson
Director of Photography: no credit

The Players: (Documentary) Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Don King, James Brown, B.B.King, Mobutu Sese Seko, Spike Lee, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Thomas Hauser, Malik Bowens, Lloyd Price, The Spinners, Jazz Crusaders, Miriam Makeba


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