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PREVIOUSLY PLAYED

MUHAMMAD ALI: THE GREATEST

8:15

Saturday, January 27

Directed by William Klein

(1964/1974) “Float like a butterfly! Sting like a bee! Rumble young, man! Rumble! AHHHHH!” 22-year-old “Cassius Clay” lets that Louisville Lip fly as he preps to face champ Sonny Liston for the first time, as legendary ex-pat photographer William Klein gets in all in starkly b&w cinema verité style – at a time when the (mostly white) press didn’t know what to make of Clay’s antics and flamboyant personality – from the manic press conferences, to a photo op with The Fab Four (“The Beatles want my autograph!”), to a feigned outburst at the weigh-in, to the opinions of everyone from the “man and woman in the street” to a noted African-American scholar to none other than Malcolm X (filmed by Klein in the tightest of close-ups), to the dramatically staged, one-shot intro of Clay’s good-ole-boy backers, who grumble about “ingratitude” while resembling mafia dons Southern-style (one of them claims that Cassius’ ancestors were his family’s slaves). Ten years later, Klein again follows Ali – this time in vivid color – to the climax of his post-draft-controversy comeback, the “rumble in the jungle” with a then-slender, hirsute and introverted ­– but still awesome – George Foreman, the whole media circus imperially hosted by Zaire’s notorious dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, the TV news introduced by his disembodied head floating in the clouds and local headlines declaring the event a “Victory for Mobutuism.” History and a cultural icon captured in the making in this full-blown portrait – its footage has been mined for countless other Ali docs – of the out-of-the-ring but never off-stage Ali. 35mm print courtesy Walker Arts Center. Approx. 110 min.

Reviews

“Klein’s evocative b/w imagery and jumpy juxtapositions are sly and striking, giving revolutionary weight to our hero as Ali clowns, savages white supremacy and meets the Beatles, and everyone from drama students to Malcolm X has their say about the meaning of the phenomenon in their midst.”
– Time Out