A 75-minute documentary covering the career of the greatest sporting personality of the 20th century, Muhammad Ali--The Greatest
adds little or nothing in the way of footage or insight unavailable elsewhere. However, it certainly provides an adequate summary of a much-told tale and makes for a good potted introduction to Ali, his sensational conquest of Sonny Liston, his conversion to the Nation of Islam, his exile from boxing following his anti-war stance and return to perform his own "personal age of miracles".
The fight footage here is mostly recycled from Bill Cayton and Jim Jacobs' vast stock of film as opposed to telecasts. Here again, then, are the grainy, quicksilver images of the skinny young Ali bamboozling ponderous journeymen Tunney Hunsaker in his debut fight; of the never adequately explained "phantom punch" against Liston in their second fight; of the dancing demolition job he performed on Cleveland Williams in 1967, perhaps the three most awesome, albeit one-sided rounds of heavyweight boxing ever. There are occasional excerpts of Ali running his mouth outside the ring, but these are too few and too familiar. Ian Darke of Sky TV provides a professionally glossy narration that's just about the right side of glib, but the budget doesn't really extend to much beyond cut and pasted footage (with only stills shots of his knockout of George Foreman) spliced with interviews with the likes of Henry Cooper, Ali's old Doctor Angelo and trainer Angelo Dundee who explains, for perhaps the hundredth time to camera, that he thought "Muslim" was a piece of cloth.
The essence of Ali's story is certainly encapsulated here, though those looking for more offbeat or in-depth material are advised to check out Champions Forever, When We Were Kings or AKA Cassius Clay. Or read Thomas Hauser's biography. --David Stubbs
Directed by acclaimed photographer William Klein, this film documents two key moments in the life and career of Muhammad Ali. The first, 1964, was the period when Ali became Heavyweight Champion of the World and openly declared his allegiance to Islam by changing his name. Whilst the second, 1974, was the year of the legendary Rumble in the Jungle. Klein covers both periods in attentive detail, taking his camera in close and providing unique insights into these important historical moments.