A new documentary about "The Greatest"

MoviesEntertainmentPsy (entertainer)Unrest, Conflicts and WarRidgefieldJoe FrazierVietnam War (1955-1975)

Muhammad Ali

6:30 p.m. Nov. 27, Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge, Ridgefield. 203-438-5795.

 

The whole story? In 93 minutes? That's what Joseph Consentino's film manages to convey. And it's quite a story. Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time, or, as he often called himself, simply "the Greatest," had a dramatic career, one with controversy, ups-and-downs, revoked heavyweight titles, successive wives, winning streaks, upsets, and amazing comebacks. And it's all here.

Cassius Clay, the name under which Ali began his career, including an Olympic championship in 1960, was a larger than life figure, an entertainer, a trash-talker, a superb athlete, an outspoken speaker of common sense, and a proselytizer for the Nation of Islam, which he joined in 1964, changing his name to Muhammad Ali, a change that caused considerable controversy. Even more controversial was his refusal to serve in the military during the escalation of the Vietnam War. Ali's refusal stemmed from his religious principles, but he was even more vocal about his unwillingness to fight, as a black man, for a racist nation like the U.S. It was a damning critique that took considerable courage in 1966, and was said to have inspired Martin Luther King to speak out against the war. Ali's title was revoked and he was banned from fighting in the U.S.

Consentino's film, commissioned by TNT, earned Best International Documentary at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto in 1996, and has rarely been shown since on the big screen. The filmmaker's wife, Sandra, edited the film and also won an award for her superlative job of condensing Ali's complexity and variety into a fast-moving film, choreographing the clips of Ali's fights with musical accompaniment to render the physical poetry of Ali's famed style — "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."

Consentino cannot speak too highly of what his wife's unique "woman's touch" brings to a film on boxing—a sport Sandra confesses she dislikes. The film generally draws praise from sports commentators for "the guy" who edited it.

The Consentinos took on the project, which required six months of research into footage, as well as shooting new interviews, though they were fans and friends of Joe Frazier, Ali's great nemesis in three heavily promoted fights, beginning with the "Fight of the Century" in 1971, the culmination of Ali's comeback year once he was permitted to fight again.

Though Consentino remains disappointed that he was unable to get Frazier and Ali to reconcile for the film, he was fortunate to get two segments—one is Bryant Gumble speaking forcefully, with tears in his eyes, about the example of Ali for blacks in America; the other is Ali, weakened by Parkinson's, lighting the Olympic torch at the 1996 Games. Both moments show a touching vulnerability in public figures, a sense of how "the Greatest" can inspire us all.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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