Muhammad Ali The Greatest

Muhammad Ali The Greatest (1974)
Pathfinder Home Entertainment
Cast: Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, George Foreman, Don King, the Beatles
Extras: Selected scene commentary with William Klein

’Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble!’

So went the mantra of one of the greatest fighters of our time, Muhammad Ali. Though, by its title, this new DVD from Facets Video might be confused with the 1977 Ali bio-drama, ’The Greatest,’ this is instead the highly compelling documentary from acclaimed photographer and filmmaker William Klein. Containing extensive footage from 1964 – 65 in which the former Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the new Heavyweight Champ then later from 1974 when Ali met up with George Foreman in Ziare for the ’Rumble in the Jungle,’ this documentary delivers an highly stylized view of Clay/Ali that can be immediately likened to that of 1984’s ’The Compleat Beatles’ (the Fab Four even captured here in a publicity stunt at Clay’s gym). While fight fans will be disappointed to find very little footage from the actual bouts, there is plenty of content that delivers an intimate look into the champ’s life while capturing the mood and attitudes of the times in this often frenzied, hand-held and jostled glimpse into the world of perhaps the most well-known fighter in heavyweight boxing.

Struck from the original black-and-white (1964) and color (1974) 16mm stock, the film is presented in a striking crisp fullframe presentation. The black-and-white sequences look terrific with the digitally mastered source material being surprisingly clean with very little visible dirt or damage. These sequences tend to look a bit overexposed yet that serves to add even more texture in recounting the rawness of the times. The color footage is also of good quality yet there is a certain amount of over-saturation that causes the colors to bleed a bit. The audio, presented in a simple Dolby Digital Mono mix, is nothing to shout about nor is it worth bemoaning as it is more than suitable to the presentation The only extra is a an optional commentary track by director Klein for 25 selected scenes. While it would have been nice to have feature-length commentary, Klein’s comments for these sequences make for intriguing and informative listening.

Though this arguably isn’t the best film account of Ali’s life (there are a dozen or so other titles that are currently vying for that distinction), the sheer verite style of this one makes it worth a look, not only to Ali fans but also to those who enjoy this sort of ’as-it-happened’ documentary. Though it’s a bit pricey at the list price of $29.95, it can be found a bit cheaper online and elsewhere. Recommended.