Decades ago, documentary filmmaker Leon Gast attempted to complete a feature about the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" championship bout between boxers Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire. Sundry complications, ... more »though, held up the project until its release in 1996. It was well worth the delay. From Gast's perspective of modern history, the six weeks Ali and Foreman were forced to spend waiting in Africa for their fight to take place now looks like an important moment in America's cultural understanding of African American roots. In a nutshell, Ali had been stripped of his heavyweight champion title because his opposition to the Vietnam War-era draft had landed him in prison. Reigning champ Foreman agreed to a Don King-promoted match in Kinshasa, but after all parties got there the fight was put off. Gast captures the charismatic Ali, in the ensuing days and weeks, going out among the people and getting to know them while the more reclusive Foreman keeps to his own company. Meanwhile, King brings over black American artists such as James Brown and the Spinners to mix it up with African musicians. The sense of excitement and connection is thrilling, as is the boxing footage of Foreman and Ali finally taking swings at one another in a titanic duel. Writers George Plimpton and Norman Mailer, each of whom was covering the fight as journalists, are on hand to recollect the details. Whether you're a fight fan or not, this is a unique experience and a fascinating insight into America's sense of identity. --Tom Keogh« less
"When We Were Kings" is Award Winning Boxing Documentary
James Koenig | Minnesota | 09/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For anyone who does not know the story that led up to this fight, here it is: In 1964, the mouthy impetuous Cassius Clay (soon to become Muhammad Ali) a 10 to 1 underdog, defeats the supposedly undefeatable Sonny Liston to become heavyweight boxing champion at just 22 years old. Clay used his unbelievable speed to pepper Liston into quitting on his stool after the 6th round. In 1967, Ali is stripped of his title for refusing to be drafted in the Vietnam War. Ali is reinstated in 1970 after a 3 and 1/2 year lay-off during his physical prime. Ali, now 29 years old, must fight Joe Frazier (who is in his physical prime at 27) to regain his crown. The two meet in Madison Square Garden in the "Fight of the Century", this first time two undefeated champions meet for the title. Ali loses to Frazier in 15 grueling rounds and it appears his chance to regain the title is history. In 1972, Ali is defeated by a relative unknown, Kenny Norton, in a 15-round decision that sees Norton break Ali's jaw. It appears that Ali is finished. In 1973, Frazier loses the title to the young, powerful, Sonny Liston-like slugger, George Foreman. Foreman bounces Frazier around in the ring like a rubber ball, knocking him down 7 times before the fight is ended. After easily KO'ing the imposing Kenny Norton in one round, Foreman is seen as undefeatable, just as Sonny Liston was in 1964.
Now it's 1974, Muhammed Ali is 32 and thought to be well past his prime by the press and boxing world. Even his handlers feel Ali cannot beat Foreman and they fear Ali will be hurt badly by Foreman. Foreman is ten years younger and undefeated Heavyweight champion of the world, a title he appears to own for the next decade or more. Fight Promoter Don King offers both fighters a record 5 million dollars apiece to fight. King finds a financial backer in Mobutu Sese Suko, the dictator of Zaire and the fight is set. Ali nick-names the fight the "Rumble in the Jungle" and looks forward to fighting Foreman in his ancestral "homeland" of Africa.
The documentary shows all the prefight shennanigans in detail, which builds to the actual fight night. In the moments leading up to the fight, while Ali and his corner men are in the tunnel waiting to emerge to the ring, Ali senses the dour, almost funeral-like mood, and chastises his group for not believing in his ability to beat Foreman. He leads his group forward to meet Foreman, with Ali the only one convinced that he can win. The fight is terrific. Ali plans to dance and move around the relatively slow and immovable Foreman, peppering him with jabs and right crosses much like he did to Liston 10 years earlier. But Ali expends so much energy trying to avoid the KO punching Foreman that he knows he cannot keep it up over 15 rounds, so he decides on the spur of the momment to lay on the ropes and let Foreman hit him in hopes of tiring Big George and later decisioning him. Foreman, seeing Ali on the ropes right where he wants him, wades in and begins pounding on the stationary Ali. Ali proves difficult to hit even though he is not moving! Round after exhausting round, Foreman pounds Ali to the body, and then throws haymakers to the head hoping to overwhelm Ali and knock him out. But Ali survives the best of what George can deliver and in the 8th round he comes off the ropes and tags Foreman with a series of rights and lefts that drops George to the canvas! A stunned Foreman is counted out by Zach Clayton the referee and ALi is once again the champion!
After the fight, Ali holds a conference where he angrily chastises the press for writing him off as a fighter. Ali then proceeds in a monsoon rainstorm to his headquarters in the dead of night, himself stunned by the Africans who line the street in the downpour hoping for a glimpse at the new champion.
It is all very well done and is a must for any serious boxing fan. I highly recommend it.
Half Great film. Doesn't get the fight right
Jerry J Troiana | Yarmouth, ME United States | 12/18/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"There is a large hole in this film, and it is in the depiction of the actual fight itself. Everything that led up to the fight is brilliantly presented. This is Ali in all of his greatness. You see his fight strategy unfold as the film progresses. He turns the people of Zaire into his hometown crowd. You watch him psyche himself up by raising the stakes. The fight became more then the heavyweight championship. Ali was going to "walk down the alley ways and sit with the wine heads, and talk to the prostitutes on the streets..." Ali was going to better the world, and restore the black mans pride. All he had to do was beat Foreman first. And he loved to be the underdog. He loved to shock the world when nobody gave him a chance in hell of winning. You see him asking an audience of fight writers, "Who's got George picked? Raise your hands. Who thinks George is gonna whup me?" At a news conference he told Don King, "I know you got George picked, but I'm gonna show you all just how great I am."By the time Ali stepped into the ring, Foreman didn't stand a chance. Ali was almost a decade past his prime, and Foreman was in the middle of his, but Ali was about to shred him, and this is where this film falls short. The fight is simply not accurately depicted. The film focuses almost exclusively on Ali's rope-a-dope strategy. You are left with the impression that Ali was pounded on the ropes for 8 rounds, only to explode in a moment of glory, knocking out a tired and caught of guard Foreman. That is simply not the way it happened. There were 8 rounds in this fight, and Ali won all 8 of them. True, he did lay on the ropes a lot, but that was only a portion of his strategy. He demoralized Foreman by taking his best shots, and scoffing at them. Ali would taunt Foreman, "Is THAT all you got George?" Then Ali would hit him with blistering combinations, almost at will. Foreman was staggered, several times. He was the perfect opponent for Ali because his head was a stationary target. Ali used it for a speed bag. Foreman's face was puffy and swollen by the third round. Ali's didn't have a mark on it. Even Joe Frazier, who was doing commentary during the fight had to admit, "I don't think George is gonna make it." He said that somewhere around the 5th. Jim Brown, who was also doing commentary, repeated over and over again, "Muhammad Ali is unreal." But you see none of this in this film. Despite what the film shows you, Ali picked Foreman apart. He was way past his prime, but this was, no doubt, his finest hour. Had Ali fought Foreman, or Frazier, or Norton, or anyone for that matter, when he was in his prime, their names would have been forgotten like all of the others that Ali disposed of early in his career. The name Joe Frazier would be familiar only to avid fight buffs, in the way the name Zorra Folley is now (one of Ali's early victims). Buy this DVD. What it does well, it does very well. But I strongly encourage you to follow it up by watching the entire fight. You can see it on "Muhammad Ali, The Greatest Collection." Then you will know the entire story."
One of My All-Time Favorite Documentaries
Allan Ostermann | Portland (the one on the left) | 04/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I love this film. Between Muhammad Ali's poetry (and taunts at Howard Cosell's sex life), the awesome, instantaneous, destructive power of a hungry young knight at the apex of his illustrious career--as Howard might have said-- and the one, two, three, four punch of James Brown; life really doesn't get much more exciting.These are the obvious reasons to love this documentary. But there's also the very real political side; promoting a huge fight in a country ruled by an evil dictator; one who "sent a message" by rounding up a few thousand criminals, and killing them. So it's pretty damn interesting to see some drunken, coked up early 70s music promoter dealing with logistics in lovely Zaire.I also love listening to what Foreman says, and doesn't say, as I think Norman Mailer mentions in the film. My favorite is when some silly reporter asks him if he thinks Ali will win the fight, or something like that. "Could be, could be...But I don't think so."Everything in this film is worthwhile. It even explores a bit of the underbelly of the beast; the world of Don King, boxing promoter, and amoral manipulator (well, I guess the two go hand in hand). And mention is made of Muhammad's current illness, with conflicting views of whether too many beatings took him down.It's a film about all this and more. The story of Ali is exciting enough, with enough raw courage to put Rocky Balboa to shame. Add a quiet, dispondent, monster of an opponent, the king of sleaze, The Spinners, a sucubus, the evil dictator, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, and others; and what do you have?Worthwhile entertainment, my friend. On every level."
Great film, crap DVD
folderol50 | Tucson, AZ | 11/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD does NOT contain the entire film seen in the theaters. The Beatles scenes are entirely gone, and my favorite song from the movie is also missing, as it also is from the soundtrack. The DVD also has no special features at all. If you loved the movie, you have to buy it, but you don't have to be happy about it."
When Ali was King!
Eric V. Moye | New York, by way of Dallas | 12/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film was well worth the long (almost twenty year) delay. A great documentary on "The Rumble in the Jungle" which marked the return of Muhammad Ali to the top of the boxing world. While this bout was not as great (according to boxing afficionados) as the epic "Thrilla in Manila" against Joe Frazier, it does go down as one of The Champ's greatest victories. Few gave him a shot at beating the supposedly indestructible George Foreman (who had destroyed Frazier twice before this fight). George Forman has had a fascinating turnabout. Few people remember him as the smiling, gentle giant that he has transformed himself into. Back then, he would have scared Tyson, as the rogue-ish evil and almost vicious bad man he was. However, as a friend of mine said after this screening, a good A.W. will often do that for a man. Don King did put on a happening, and much of it is captured in this great documentary. The fight was preceded by a number of other events, including musicians (like James Brown, B.B. King and the Spinners), dancers and celebs. Much of that was captured here.Much of the dialogue was provided by dueling journalists Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, each trying to outdo one another on the import of the fight. I agree with another reviewer, it would have been great to hear from Ferdie Pacheco and Angelo Dundee, the men in Ali's corner. During this time, Ali was called the most recognizable man in the World. I sure would not have bet against that. This film captures much of the character which made him a great figure, as well as a great boxer."