Produced by Gaspar Gonzalez and Alan Tomlinson
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 54 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
MSRP: $ 19.99
Release Date: August 12, 2008
Review Date: July 28, 2008
Muhammad Ali has been among the most recognizable individuals on the planet for the past half century. But he wasn’t always Muhammad Ali. This one hour PBS documentary Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami helps us get to know Cassius Clay in the years before he became Muhammad Ali. As one commentator says in the film, Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but Muhammad Ali was born in Miami, and it’s this rebirth during his Miami years that this fine documentary sets out to chronicle.
The story picks up with boxer Cassius Clay fresh from his gold medal-winning performance at the 1960 Rome Olympics. He arrives in Miami ready to begin a professional career and quickly comes under the wing of trainer Angelo Dundee and fight doctor Ferdie Pacheco who mold him into someone who could legitimately vie for the heavyweight championship. (He had won his gold medal as a light heavyweight.) Using vintage interviews and footage taken before Clay had perfected his “Gorgeous George” impersonation as the biggest mouth in boxing, it’s fascinating to see that aspect of his persona take shape. We see in early training and ring footage his unorthodox style with his hands dangerously low but managing to stay out of danger by leaning away from punches and using his lightning fast speed with his feet and hands to perplex and frustrate his opponents. All of this culminates, of course, in his historic first fight with then-seemingly invincible heavyweight champion Sonny Liston on February 5, 1964. An 8 to 1 underdog going into the ring, he shocks the world and pulls off one of boxing’s greatest upsets.
This isn’t a montage of fight films, however. A majority of the old footage and the present day interviews deals with the political situation going on in the country during the time of Clay’s meteoric rise to the top. The civil rights movement was at its apex during these years, all of it chronicled in its effect on Clay, especially his growing interest in the Nation of Islam and in leaders Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad. These are some aspects of his story that might not be as well known to fans of the fabled fighter and give the documentary a gravitas that it wouldn’t have contained had it just been a story of the most infamous heavyweight fight of the 1960s. Clay’s subsequent shedding of his “slave name” and his new designation as Muhammad Ali along with his eventual decision to refuse induction into military service also gets some mention in the latter third of the documentary.
Unquestionably the drama of the Liston-Clay first fight is the centerpiece of the documentary as many people may not remember the ebb and flow of domination during the fight’s six completed rounds. (Their second catastrophic meeting is also included among the footage though it‘s given short shrift with no mention that it was originally postponed when Ali suffered a training injury.) Quite a few sports and political experts have valuable insights to share about the man, and they‘re always informative. Unfortunately, only vintage clips are available to hear the man’s own words; his present debilitated condition prevents his participation in any interviews.
The documentary’s 1.78:1 aspect ratio is rendered here with anamorphic enhancement. Some of the vintage interview clips, however, have not been handled properly and appear stretched and unnatural instead of being pillar boxed within the widescreen frame. The new interviews vary in quality greatly with sharpness and color density erratic and sometimes unappealing. Of course, the vintage footage is what it is: often dirty and filled with scratches and poor contrast. Still, the rough quality of the clips somehow seems right for the period it’s representing and is not the fault of the transfer. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is minimally stereophonic. Since the documentary is made up significantly of interviews, the center channel gets the most obvious workout, and everything emanating from that speaker is easily discernable.
Producers Gaspar Gonzalez and Alan Tomlinson converse for 29 minutes on the evolution of the documentary from a magazine article written by Gonzalez to filmmaker Tomlinson coming on board to turn it into a documentary. This interview is in nonanamorphic 16:9.
The Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami preview is presented in 4:3 and lasts 3 ½ minutes.
Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami is a well made, interestingly told PBS documentary showing us the evolution of one of our country’s true sports and political icons. Those with interest in the man and/or the sport will find it quite illuminating.