Tuesday, January 19, 2010

DVD Views: Facing Ali

Facing Ali ***
Directed By: Pete McCormack.
Featuring: George Foreman, George Chuvalo, Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, Sir Henry Cooper, Ernie Terrell, Ron Lyle, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers.

Muhammad Ali has left an indelible mark on the world of boxing – and in fact on 20th Century History itself. He was a man who was unafraid to stand up for what he believed in, and was able to back up his tremendous boasts in the boxing ring, taking on all comers with style and speed. There have been so many movies made about Ali that is hardly seems like there is anything left to cover. But Pete McCormack’s Facing Ali does in fact break some new ground. It does so by concentrating on a side of Ali that few people ever saw up close and personal. The movie is essentially a collection of interviews with the boxers who took on Ali during his professional career – from close to the beginning when he fought British champ Henry Cooper to his final fights two decades later, when it was clear to everyone except maybe Ali that he was washed up. The result is an interesting portrait of an icon.

What is revealing about the movie is how almost no one in the film has anything bad to say about Ali. Joe Frazier doesn’t seem to like him very much – and seems to have been hurt by some of the things Ali said about him – but even he has a respect for Ali that transcends just the admiration of his boxing talent. Almost everyone else thinks that Ali really was the greatest – and that their careers were better for having faced him than they otherwise would have been.

For fans interested in boxing, than Facing Ali provides a lot of what you would want to see. The fighters analyze their own fights, as well as fights that didn’t involve them, against Ali in a way that you rarely get to hear about. But what made Facing Ali so enlightening, and fascinating, to me were the stories that these boxers told about their own lives.

Everyone knows that Ali is struggling with Parkinson’s disease, and that he is now a mere shadow of his former self. And he is not the only one it seems to have suffered permanent damage. George Foreman, Henry Cooper and Larry Holmes appear to be the healthiest, both in terms of physical and mental health, out of all the boxers. They seem to have suffered no ill effects from their days in the rings. Canadian George Chuvalo also appears unscarred by his time in the ring, but his emotional scars – from 3 of his four sons and his wife dying – are certainly still there. Leon Spinks has been ravaged by drug use. Ken Norton got into a horrific car accident. The rest seem to be a step slower mentally then the rest of us, but still recall with pride their days in the ring.

Facing Ali doesn’t break any new ground. But it is still a fascinating little movie, that gives us a fascinating portrait of Ali, along with many of the boxers who faced him. It doesn’t usurp When We Were Kings as the best documentary made about Ali, but it is worthy to be mentioned alongside it.

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