Country: United States
Director: Peter McCormack
Featuring: George Chuvalo, Sir Henry Cooper, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks, Ernie Terrell, and Muhammad Ali
Music: Schaun Tozer
Based on the book by Stephen Brunt
There are many documentaries about Muhammad Ali. Possibly the most famous, and arguably the best, is When We Were Kings. But Facing Ali is also a fine documentary, inter-cutting archival footage of Ali, with modern day interviews with his opponents.
Essentially it is simply the fighters telling their stories of their encounter with Ali, but in doing so, they also tell of the turbulent years in which the fights took place. The civil rights movement, and Ali’s refusal to go to Vietnam, colour the early portion of the documentary. As the documentary, moves through the years, challenger by challenger, bout by bout, Ali’s legacy becomes more apparent. However, the film is not a back-slapping tribute to Ali. At times, Ali comes of as a shit.
Fans familiar with Ali’s legendary fights with Joe Frasier (especially the ‘Thriller in Manilla’), may be slightly disappointed in the fact that the film glosses over some of Ali’s more abusive behaviour towards Frasier. If you want a more substantial coverage on the build up to the ‘Thriller’, then seek out the documentary Thriller in Manilla, where the story of that fight is told from Frasier’s point of view.
There are quite a few high points in the film. It is often stated, how rich or privileged kids never become fighters. It is always people who have had tough lives. George Chuvalo’s story about his sons on drugs, and their subsequent death – and later his wife’s suicide – will bring a tear to the toughest man’s eye. Ken Norton, tells how his wife had left him, and he was down and out with no money, trying to bring up his son on his own – and his fights with Ali, gave him a chance at a better life, for both him and his son. Nearly all the fighters were saved from lives of crime, by becoming boxers. The honest story, of where these men came from, gives this documentary a touch of humanity, which is easy to lose when your talking about heavy-weight fighters beating seven shades of tar out of each other.
For fight fans, Facing Ali is well worth the price of a rental – and even if you’re not a fight fan, simply interested in human drama, there is still a lot to enjoy – not least, the fantastic jazz soundtrack. Considering, due his Parkinsons, Ali can’t speak for himself, is a testament to his legacy, that his opponents are willing to speak for him, and tell the story warts and all.
May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney). Accordingly, in a month long celebration, Permission to Kill will be looking back and some of the highlights – and lowlights – of boxing in film and literature – and in music too.