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When We Were Kings

When We Were Kings

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Rating: 5 stars
Summary: When Ali was King!
Review: This film was well worth the long (almost twenty year) delay. A great documentary on "The Rumble in the Jungle" which marked the return of Muhammad Ali to the top of the boxing world. While this bout was not as great (according to boxing afficionados) as the epic "Thrilla in Manila" against Joe Frazier, it does go down as one of The Champ's greatest victories. Few gave him a shot at beating the supposedly indestructible George Foreman (who had destroyed Frazier twice before this fight). George Forman has had a fascinating turnabout. Few people remember him as the smiling, gentle giant that he has transformed himself into. Back then, he would have scared Tyson, as the rogue-ish evil and almost vicious bad man he was. However, as a friend of mine said after this screening, a good A.W. will often do that for a man.

Don King did put on a happening, and much of it is captured in this great documentary. The fight was preceded by a number of other events, including musicians (like James Brown, B.B. King and the Spinners), dancers and celebs. Much of that was captured here.

Much of the dialogue was provided by dueling journalists Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, each trying to outdo one another on the import of the fight. I agree with another reviewer, it would have been great to hear from Ferdie Pacheco and Angelo Dundee, the men in Ali's corner.

During this time, Ali was called the most recognizable man in the World. I sure would not have bet against that. This film captures much of the character which made him a great figure, as well as a great boxer.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: One of My All-Time Favorite Documentaries
Review: I love this film. Between Muhammad Ali's poetry (and taunts at Howard Cosell's sex life), the awesome, instantaneous, destructive power of a hungry young knight at the apex of his illustrious career--as Howard might have said-- and the one, two, three, four punch of James Brown; life really doesn't get much more exciting.

These are the obvious reasons to love this documentary. But there's also the very real political side; promoting a huge fight in a country ruled by an evil dictator; one who "sent a message" by rounding up a few thousand criminals, and killing them. So it's pretty damn interesting to see some drunken, coked up early 70s music promoter dealing with logistics in lovely Zaire.

I also love listening to what Foreman says, and doesn't say, as I think Norman Mailer mentions in the film. My favorite is when some silly reporter asks him if he thinks Ali will win the fight, or something like that.

"Could be, could be...But I don't think so."

Everything in this film is worthwhile. It even explores a bit of the underbelly of the beast; the world of Don King, boxing promoter, and amoral manipulator (well, I guess the two go hand in hand). And mention is made of Muhammad's current illness, with conflicting views of whether too many beatings took him down.

It's a film about all this and more. The story of Ali is exciting enough, with enough raw courage to put Rocky Balboa to shame. Add a quiet, dispondent, monster of an opponent, the king of sleaze, The Spinners, a sucubus, the evil dictator, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, and others; and what do you have?

Worthwhile entertainment, my friend. On every level.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: This is the one to see, about Muhammad Ali!
Review: As a little ol' white girl, about 10 or 11, I listened to a "fight" on the radio one night. How I came to be interested in it is beyond me, but I remember being alone in the house. As I sat there listening, the commentator became so excited describing the action that I couldn't help but get caught up in the moment. And then he won! All the sudden I hear, "I Am The Greatest! I Am The Greatest!" I could hear the pandemonium in the background, but his voice rang out, proud and sassy, over and above it. Cassius Clay was the new Heavyweight Champion! Whatever that is. Hey - I wasn't that old! Only later did I realize how momentous this bout was in the annals of sports.

Flash forward 40 years. I would hear about the latest news of Muhammad Ali on occasion and I never missed an opportunity to watch him on TV. He was so brash and funny in the way he talked, but so formidable when he stepped into the ring. I would always think back to that night. The sport of boxing is so far removed from my life that when I speak of him, my admiration and opinions are generally dismissed as "something this woman could know nothing about". But you see, they're wrong. Ali reaches through to those you would least expect. That is the magic of his spirit. But try to explain that to somebody. When I saw this film the first time I smiled all the way through it. I knew I had the means to finally communicate the joy in discovering this athlete's allure - the humor, the boldness, the grace and the strength. I recommend this film to all my friends and family or to anyone I talk to about Muhammad Ali. It captures a moment in history. There's music and mayhem and so much energy - it feels like you're there! The interviews and commentary of those who reminisce on the event adds depth to the story of how it all transpired. The momentum builds as the fight begins with Foreman and the magnitude of their efforts is astounding. If you've never seen him box or heard him pontificate - as only he can - you are in for a treat! Bask in the glory of this film. And thank God we have it for posterity.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: An insight into late 20th century culture and racial issues
Review: In WHEN WE WERE KINGS, Leon Gast portrays 1974's "Rumble in the Jungle" as a cultural milestone in American history. This is more than a film on boxing -- it sheds light on the entire sport of boxing and, more importantly, on issues of race in America and rest of the world in the late 20th century. Intellectuals such as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Spike Lee add comentary, and ask questions such as: Who was the "good" black boxer? Who should we root for, the draft-dodging but personable and funny Ali, aged and probably past his prime, or the super-talented, but also aloof and arrogant, Foreman. The contrast between the ways in which each boxer relates to the black Africans in Zaire is interesting and touching, and the fans' pre- and mid-fight chants trying to rally the losing Ali stay with you long after the film has faded to black. The film sets off at a lightnign quick pace and never slows down, and the last twenty minutes is among the most triumphant filmmaking, documentary or fictional, that I have ever seen. This film is a must see for sport fans, cultural historians, and anybody who loves good movies.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: Best Documentary and Deservedly So!
Review: "When We Were Kings" is a tremendous documentary of the Ali/Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" which took place in Zaire, Africa in 1974. The fight carries the distinction of being one of the greatest heavyweight bouts of all time, which it is, but there's more to the story. People may have forgotten the circumstances of the fight. That the fight happened at all, much less in Africa, is a story in itself worthy of telling. This film tells it very well.

How did the fight come to be in Africa? Was there any way that Ali could beat the younger, more powerful Foreman, who had pummeled his previous opponents? What was really going through Ali's mind before the fight? And who was this new guy Don King? Even though I knew the outcome of the fight, I was overwhelmed with excitement throughout the entire film. The fight and the events leading up to it were so incredible that similar conditions could never be repeated today. The entire entourage, including musical acts James Brown, B.B. King, and the Spinners make the fight an even bigger event. Attention is also given to the political situation in Zaire (dictator Mobutu supposedly detained 1,000 of the country's most wanted criminals in order to ensure a peaceful atmosphere for the world to see during the fight), Don King's motivation, and the incredible charisma of Ali. The film won the Oscar for Best Documentary and deservedly so. Director Gast has produced a film that stands as an important portrait of boxing, black culture, and the 70's as a decade.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: One of the Best Documentaries Ever
Review: This fight was one of the first distinct memories of my childhood. The damn thing took forever to come on TV (my father and his friends had gotten it on closed circuit in Germany) and I fell asleep at least once waiting for the fighters to finally make it into the ring. I was too young to understand everything that went on in the leadup to the "event" (and that's what it was) and I was absolutely delighted to learn that this film was going to be released so I could catch up.

And it is a truly great film. It is a great film because it documents a great time in American and African history and because the things it documents are inherently dramatic and exciting. That said, this is also a terrific film from a filmmaking point of view; wonderful camera work, in your face documenting, and intelligent editing. It's not as "artsy" as Leni Riefenstahl's classic documentation of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but that event had a totally different cultural and historical context.

As a sport film, this movie is also important because it documents one of the greatest fights of all time; Ali correctly noted after the fight that his rope-a-dope strategy would go down in the annals of boxing.

All in all a wonderfully entertaining, informative, and inspiring way to spend about 90 minutes of your time.

Rating: 4 stars
Summary: Ali Boom Bay Yea
Review: As a piece of archival footage this film can't be beat, as it captures the chaos and pageantry that surrounded the Ali-Foreman fight in 1974. Ali never looked so great as he did in the build up to this fight. He was in prime form, even if a heavy underdog to the massive George Foreman. Leon Gast captures Ali in all his crazy kinetic glory, boasting proudly of how he would dance, and Foreman wouldn't lay a glove on him. Gast also focuses on Don King who in typical fashion played both ends of the stick, promoting both fighters and coming up with a $10 million purse thanks to Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire's ruthless dictator, who saw a potential windfall for the country in the international attention this fight would generate. As Ali noted, some nations go to war to get attention and this fight will cost a lot less than a war. What we got was the famous "Rumble in the Jungle."

Unfortunately, this film doesn't go very deep in analyzing the fight, and gives the fight itself surprisingly short shrift. All we get are a handful of truncated rounds and the final blow delivered by Ali. But, what this film does provide is the pageant that surrounded the fight along with engaging commentary by Norman Mailler, who evocatively captured the spectacle in "The Fight," George Plimpton, Thomas Hauser, who has written the definitive biography on Ali, and Spike Lee. Mailler is the most fun to listen to, as he lived and breathed the fight and gives some of the most trenchant comments on it, but he too seemed mystified at how Ali pulled it off, chalking it up to the "trembling woman" who supposedly sucked the life out of Foreman.

George Foreman seemed invincible, having torn apart Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, but he simply wasn't prepared to deal with someone of Ali's caliber, or the massive publicity this fight generated. Foreman was also shocked to be so poorly received in Africa, where Ali was King. Foreman seemed out of place in Kinshasha, never able to find his footing or able to deal with a crafty fighter like Ali, who came up with his famous "rope-a-dope" that evening. Foreman simply punched himself out and had nothing left after seven rounds. It was then that Ali worked his magic and proved to the world that he was indeed the greatest, staging one of the most astonishing comebacks in sports history.

"Ali Boom Bay Yea" the crowd chanted as Ali fought himself off the ropes and pummeled Foreman with an array of blows that had him tumbling to the mat. Ali never had another moment like this, although he would successfully defend his title 10 times before his ignominous defeat to Leon Spinks in 1978, only to regain it for the third time that year. This film does more than any other at capturing Ali in top form, with all his remarkable charisma and incredible talent.

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: The Greatest look at The Greatest
Review: For an incisive look at the Man of the Century, this sliver of time captures Ali at his apogee, at the juncture where all the forces he harnessed were unleashed. Black Power, an American black touching his real African roots, Ali's brilliant
psychological undressing and giantkilling of the foreboding young Foreman, the slave finally freed from the consequences of his conscientious objection giving one of the purest boxing lessons, all the crazy post-60s characters -- Bundini Brown, Don King, Howard Cosell, the writers Mailer and Plimpton. Just as touching, before the Thrilla in Manila, some of the last footage of the lightning quick mouth, mind, feet and hands of Ali before he became the shambling icon of a cuddly old man with shaky Parksinsons hands lighting the Olympic torch in Atlanta and making us all hold our breath that he would light himself on fire.


Timothy Carlson
Boulder CO

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: Giants That Walk Among Us
Review: You're watching some incredible interviews, rare and great footage, learning a bit about the Africa of 1974 and grooving to the music. Getting swept up in the excitement of what this is all about...

About an hour goes by and just when you start to forget why this all taking place you see these two in the ring together and as they engage each other, stand toe to toe in the center of the ring it hits you. Hits you hard.

These are two legends of the ring. These are two giants that walk among us and THIS...this is the fight...THE FIGHT that forever will be part of boxing history, boxing lore and boxing mythology. That outside the ring and the world of boxing this is something that will be part of forever. The enormity of the moment is almost overwhelming...

The movie itself is somewhat dated as far as film making goes. Get ready to travel back to the mid '70's / early '80s. It's like a "Behind The Music" (VH1) before there was a "Behind The Music" and of course it's about the fight that took place in Zaire between George Forman and Muhammad Ali. "The Rumble in the Jungle".

If you can check out Muhammad Ali - The Whole Story for more complete footage of the actual fight (and THE best Muhammad Ali DVD/VHS around). Muhammad in reality does a lot better than we are all led to believe hearing the story of the Rumble in the Jungle. He in fact holds his own and you see why the fight wasn't stopped or why you always hear how close it actually was.

When Were Kings is a terrific film. As a Muhammad Ali fan it's a must for my collection. No question. Just for the footage of the two of them in the middle of the ring pre-bell. The stare down. THAT moment alone is worth the price of admision. If you're an Ali fan you need this.

As a boxing enthusiast it's great to see Thomas Hauser, George Plimpton and Norman Mailer. It's always so fun to see George Forman in his previous persona and seeing a young Don King and Bundini Brown and the others (too many to name here) and of course to see and hear Muhammad Ali!

Rating: 5 stars
Summary: The Thrilla
Review: Whether you're a Muhammad Ali fan or not doesn't matter; what matters here is how well the documentary has been assembled, and in actual fact, it deserved any and all recognition it received at the time of its eventual release and even today.

As documentaries go, it's never less than thoroughly entertaining, with great commentary from Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, and great performance footage of James Brown and BB King.

Far superior than Michael Mann's flawed "Ali" biopic. There's no re-enactment of fight footage that can replace the real thing.

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