Director: Leon Gast
Domestic Gross: $2 666 118
it was muhammad ali's birthday a couple weeks ago and watching all the birthday stories and tv specials made me think of a movie that somehow i had forgotten to write down on my list of films i wanted to talk about on filmed but not forgotten. no, i am not talking about the micheal mann film Ali with will smith (although i thought it was a good movie). i am talking about the great documentary When We Were Kings. When We Were Kings tells the story of the 1974 fight in zaire between the powerful george foreman and the underdog ali. it was coined 'the rumble in the jungle' and what a rumble it was.
i just want to say that people should not be turned off of the film if they are not boxing fans. personally i am not a boxing fan, but i loved this movie. yes the film is about the fight and the events leading up to it, but it is also about a time and a man, ali, who is considered by many to be not only one of the greatest fighters of all time, but one of the greatest human beings.
being a child of the 80's and early 90's i never got to see ali fight in his prime and to be honest i never understood what all the fuss was about. not only about his fighting but about who he was and why everyone was so enamored and in awe of him. then i saw this film and not only did i come to appreciate boxing somewhat, but i finally began to understand ali's greatness as a man. ali's charisma and persona are also just so wonderfully contagious and powerful and take over whenever he is on screen.
almost all the footage was filmed back in 1974 by the director leon gast, but it took him 22 years to finally get the movie made (partly because the negative and rights to the film were entangled in civil suits involving the liberians who financed the movie's making). i think however in this case it was meant to be because, the film that is now, is not what the film would have been back in 1974. ali's legacy has had time to grow and the film does a great job of putting you back in the time but with a sense of history about it, looking at what ali had done prior to the fight and has done since. it is also interesting to see george foreman as this powerful brute of a fighter and not the grill toting lovable man he is today.
the 'talking heads' in the film are also great. spike lee has some interesting things to say about ali and his importance, and right there you have one person who obviously couldn't have been in the film if it had been made two decades earlier. also, norman mailer and george plimpton are fantastically literate and engaging as they describe what was going on and their impressions of the weeks in zaire. they also do a great job of taking us through the actual fight round by round and relaying to the viewer the technique and the strategy that was taking place - this is the fight where ali used the famous rope-a-dope in which he just took foremans blows round after round up against the ropes until george had tired himself out and then ali struck back. it actually made me appreciate boxing as an art and a sport rather then the greedy, corrupt show it seems to be these days.
When We Were Kings is a film for all generations. it will bring back memories for those that remember the era and ali when he was 'the greatest', and it will do its part to show those that came of age later, who ali really was and why he is still talked about with such high regard by everyone from all walks of life.