I am Ali – Movie Review
Directed and Written by Clare Lewins
Muhammad Ali had considerable foresight as he, as a black man, redefined his role in the world of professional boxing when he changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay and also by his words and deeds which helped to alter the status of the African American in the United States in general. “I am Ali” is an absorbing documentary because after all these years his prime legacy is that of a breathtakingly physically beautiful human as he dances around a boxing ring not a place where beauty is often to be found. He coupled this physical magnificence with bombastic patter, which underneath its swaggering bravado, was encapsulated by his own splendid words “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”. He was nobody’s prisoner; in particular he was no prisoner of his antecedents’ slavery.
This documentary makes considerable use of contemporary footage, interviews with some of his children, his third wife, his brother and some of the persons who were close to him in the early days of his career. This body of material give a fine resume of this great athlete and motivated man.
However a more unusual body of material is the extensive amount of tape recordings he made with some of his children when they were very young. He sensed and knew that he was going to become a legend, fame in duration far longer than the 15 minutes about which Andy Warhol spoke, he was going to be enduringly famous and that his kids would be proud of these recorded conversations when they had grown up to adulthood. From that aspect they are remarkable documents. They show him to be a loving caring father. Very different from some of his bombastic public pronouncements. But there is not that within them of much outside interest to an observer other than the fact he so assiduously recorded the conversations. It is a pity therefore that so much use is made of them throughout the film. In short, they are over used.
However that is a relatively small grouse. Muhammad Ali’s career in the sixties, seventies and eighties was a roller coaster as he clashed with the establishment over the Vietnam war draft but in the boxing ring he was supreme as he brought a verve and elan to the sport which it never had before. He was also balletic as he glided effortlessly with rapid-fire feet movements around the boxing ring. It was his habitat, his alone and he was undisputed king of it. This documentary brings all that glory back to life and makes it easy to understand how he captivated the sporting world in his prime and how he remains the greatest both as a butterfly and as a bee.
Review by Frank L