“Never feel sorry for me. I’m great.”
Some people are truly transcendent. Regardless of what they may make waves in, their personas and auras span across many areas. Cassius Clay, better known as legendary heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali, was undisputably one of these people in his heyday. Facing Ali is a documentary focused on the one of a kind fighter, told from the perspective of 10 contemporaries Ali clashed with in the ring.
Like the DVD title says, Facing Ali is a knockout, in the best possible way. In 100 minutes we are treated to a very thorough recount and analysis from Ali’s combatants, such as Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Leon Spinks, Sir Henry Cooper, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, George Chuvalo, Ernie Terrell, and of course George Foreman. Each man has much to say about his respective bout from a boxing standpoint with the self-proclaimed “King of the World,” which is amazing in and of itself.
With just the above alone, this would make for a good documentary. Luckily, there is much more. One of the best things about this film is the fact that it is not solely fixed on Muhammad Ali. It would have been real easy for the director to tell the contributors to only speak of what it was like to take on the titular figure. Yet, the director allows those who went to war against Ali to also serve up their own personal plights. This was a nice direction, and it serves two purposes: 1. It (obviously) allows for more connection and understanding of those not named Ali, and 2. It humanizes Ali from this deity-like icon he often comes across as in early media to just a regular man who isn’t all that different.
Furthermore, the boxers pull no punches when bringing up Ali. While the respect they have for the great one is evident, many do speak of him in an unfavorable light. At the very least, Muhammad Ali was controversial, from the way he carried himself to his outspokenness on various hot-button issues, such as race, religion, and politics. At the very worst, he was arrogant and rambunctious. The film does a wonderful job of never painting Ali as a completely larger than life figure or a fully irritating individual. It is really neutral, which is the way it should be.
Surprisingly, the documentary is more emotional than anticipated. It will most definitely strike a chord with viewers. The last 10 minutes, focusing on Ali’s battle with Parkinson’s, are some of the more powerful moments I have ever seen in a documentary. Even those who may dislike him will be hard pressed to not feel anything during this stretch.
As imagined, the film makes use of a substantial amount of archivial footage from not just the bouts, but press conferences and world events important to Ali and the times, like the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement. The interviews themselves are shot with a warm filter and are interwoven with text and quotes from Ali and others appearing in a visually crisp and sharp fashion. As for the soundtrack, it is largely jazz oriented and mirrors Muhammad’s boxing style, which was usually free flowing and fluttering but so poetic.
Like most sports-themed films, those who have no such interest should probably pass. But for hardcore boxing aficionados and people who at least have a passing interest in Muhammad Ali, Facing Ali is a must watch. It is much more expansive and riveting than the previous Muhammad documentary of When We Were Kings. I feel terrible in saying this, but this is the type of documentary that, while praised at a few festivals, will not come to the forefront until Ali passes away, which is hopefully later than sooner.
Photo credits go to Imdb.com, amazon.com, movies.insing.com, & hottipsmedia.com
Follow me @Markjacksonisms