Ali – The Man, The Moves, The Mouth (2012)
Clips of and interviews with Muhammad Ali
Host: Bert Sugar
Studio: Wildwood Films/MVD Visual Entertainment MVD53960 [7/24/2012]
Video: 1.33:1 color, black & white
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 60 minutes
There have been athletes who have transcended their sport. Jesse Owens electrified the world at the 1936 Munich Olympics. Jackie Robinson changed the course of American history when he broke the color line of Major League Baseball in 1947. However, there has never been an athlete with the overall global impact of Muhammad Ali. Time magazine named him the greatest athlete of the Twentieth Century. In the seventies, he had become the most recognized individual…in the world! His outspoken socio-political stances made him controversial and larger than life. Even today, he is known around the world decades after his career ended.
Ali – The Man, The Moves, The Mouth is a brisk albeit superficial look at his meteoric rise to prominence. With boxing iconoclastic writer Bert Sugar narrating, the documentary starts with a young Cassius Clay (his “slave” name) growing up in Louisville, learning to box as a youngster. This part of the film is interesting with footage and interviews that demonstrate the impressive athletic skill and charming wit of this individual. The first half of the film is in black and white. In a linear progression, Golden Gloves, 1960 Rome Olympics and the beginning of his professional resume are recounted. It is important to realize that being Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world was the apex of sports. (In Raging Bull , Robert DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta bemoans the fact that even as champion, he would never get to face Joe Louis). Cassius Clay exploded onto the scene, dominating the sports world with his lightning quick fists and his talent for non-stop talking and rhyming. For those who have never seen his fights, his movements are graceful and lethal. Against the fearsome Sonny Liston, he defies the odds and captures the championship. He becomes an international celebrity. Even The Beatles (who don’t seem to mind being props) seek his attention. After his ascension, he joins the Nation of Islam, changing his name to Muhammad Ali. He speaks his mind (“I’m a black man”), and treats his opponents with disdain.
At the height of his popularity (1967), Ali refuses to be inducted into the Army and is stripped of the coveted title. He would eventually be exonerated in 1970. Finally as the film shifts to color, he meets his nemesis “Smokin’” Joe Frazier and loses for the first time. That only endears him to the public. In 1974, he regains the title against George Foreman in Zaire. The African world embraced Ali. He would fight Frazier two more times (both victories) including the epic “Thrilla In Manilla”. Incredibly, he would lose the title and regain it for an unprecedented third time.
The pace of the movie is lively, but there is no point of view. Many subtexts and story lines are glossed over. Considering that the “Runyon-esque” Sugar is one of the most engaging boxing authorities, it is difficult to comprehend why he wasn’t utilized for back story. While the narrative is extremely positive about Ali, there are references to his physical cruelty and verbal abuse toward certain opponents (Floyd Patterson, Ernie Terrell). But the lack of fresh details about the seminal fights is missing. Everybody is familiar with most of the details in the film. Somehow, the legend of Muhammad Ali never gets old.
Perhaps the best Blue Note Records documentary yet…