When we were kings

Filmers need to be dedicated. The passage of time between a film's conception and its release can be unexpectedly long; in this case it was 23 years. The result is a documentary that not only captures a memorable historical event, but lifts the spirit of mankind, and is a result that director Leon Gast should well be proud of.

The 1974 Mohammed Ali-George Foreman fight in Zaire was unexpected in many ways: 1) The event was arranged in Africa (a \$ 10 million trick of the hand performed by the notorious Don King), 2) the fight was delayed for six weeks due to a cut over Foreman's eye, 3) the audience was kept captive (inasmuch as departures from the country were suddenly suspended) by President Mobutu, 4)attendance at the three day concert (showcasing the greatest black musician from two continents) suffered from the circumstances, and 5) the final outcome (which was to be perhaps the biggest surprise). These were all elements that kept the unpredictability of the moment alive and kicking.

A country confused by unexpected changes was dealing with the demise of Tricky Dicky when this event hailed the dawn of a new acceptance by Black Americans of their African pasts. The "Rumble in the Jungle" had people at the time opening their eyes and this film proves a fascinating nostalgic registration as well as becoming an eye opener for those too young to remember. Both fighters and their entourages repeatedly delivered the same message, "From slave ship to championship. We were taken from Africa as slaves and now we're coming back as champions." The political importance of Ali comes revealingly to the forefront, punching equally as hard as his fists; he was more than just a boxer, he was a fighter. Despite the confusion and consternation many felt at Ali's statements and actions at the time, it should now be possible for these segments of America to decipher the message more clearly in retrospect; some things (unfortunately) take time. On the other hand, let us not be to ready to praise or decry any portion of mankind more than another. The situation taking place in Zaire today also gives one something to think about in quite another way.

This documentary sports an all-star cast including James Brown, B.B. King, President Mobutu Sese Seko, Spike Lee, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Miriam Makeba. Needless to say, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman have the leading roles. This is the story of Muhammad Ali's fight to re- establish his place in sports history and reclaim his right to speak out for his people.

Producer David Sonenberg gave the film its title when he said, "We all have a moment when we're at the top of our game. For Muhammad Ali, this would be the crowning achievement in an extraordinary career. He was a king amongst kings - from Mobutu, the resident King of Zaire, to James Brown, the King of Soul, to Don King. But Ali, he was on a whole other level .. Ali was the King of the World."

Even if you don't like boxing, you will be gripped by an unexpected twinge of elation watching this fascinating document. There are, after all, more aspects to fighting than those that take place inside the ring.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett