Monday, March 3, 2008

When We Were Kings

This is the documentary about the Muhammad Ali - George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire in 1974. It's well-made, but it requires a bit of a mental effort to view George Foreman as the vicious bruiser he was seen as back then. He was a barely-human monster that everyone loathed and feared, which is fairly different from the cuddly grill salesman we have these days.

Muhammad Ali is even more different. These days, he's universally beloved (remember that time he lit the Olympic flame? Everyone loved that!), but he was a very controversial person, what with the Nation of islam and the refusing to be drafted. But watching this movie, it's hard to imagine, because he's just ridiculously charismatic. He's having a great time making fun of the press, his opponent, and anything that occurs to him. The movie cuts back and forth between the giant monster George Foreman pounding a heavy bag with the funny, quick Ali, and it creates a great contrast.

One thing I never quite understood, and still don't, is how exactly Zaire decided that Muhammad Ali was the epitome of the African-American, while George Foreman wasn't. I mean, they're both black, right? It's not one of those Jack Johnson vs. James Jeffires deals. I can only assume that it was really just because Ali was so much more fun.

The non-boxing parts of the film, where they mention Zaire's political situation (vicious dictatorship!) and the great concert with James Brown and B.B. King are interesting, but they're not really the focus of the show. The actual boxing match is pretty interesting, especially since they do a good job of explaining the "rope-a-dope" strategy. I don't watch boxing at all, so I appreciate that there was a strategy that could be seriously explained.

My favorite line in the movie is toward the beginning, when Ali is doing some world-class bragging: "Just last week, I murdered a rock!" Wow! That is a bad man!

My favorite line that's not in the movie comes from later George Foreman interviews. At some point, Foreman started telling a story that around the fifth round, he hit Ali hard in the ribs, and Ali taunted him with "Is that all you got, George?" and Foreman thought, "Yup. That's about it." That's funny, but I'm not convinced he actually had the presence of mind to think it.

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