Sunday, April 18, 2010
Muhammad and Albert
I just saw a kick-ass double dose of docs about Muhammad Ali (to be fair, one was also about Larry Holmes, who seems like a very decent guy, and understandably peeved at having lived his life in Ali's shadow) at Harlem's Maysles Cinema. The first, Muhammad Ali: The Greatest, is a visual knockout by the gifted photographer/filmmaker William Klein, who filmed extreme close-ups with a wide-angle lens to crowd his frame with telling details, then punctuated those kinetic scenes with iconic images of America in the '60s and '70s.
The second one, Muhammad and Larry, was harder to watch, since it traces the beginning of Ali's decline and his defeat at the hands of his friend Holmes. It's a sensitive and moving look at the two fighters, supplementing 1980 footage shot by Albert Maysles (yes, it's that Maysles) and his brother David with contemporary interviews shot by Albert and Bradley Kaplan. The film was made for ESPN's 30 for 30 series.
The movies also sparked an interesting conversation between the audience and Maysles, Kaplan, and Laura Coxson, who produced Muhammad and Larry (that's her with Albert Maysles in the photograph above.) But I'm burying the lead.
Probably the best part of the evening for me was getting to chat with Maysles before he screened his movie, then hearing him talk about his humanist, unpretentious way of making documentaries during the Q and A. It's easy to see why he's put so many subjects at ease in his documentaries: he's a warm, approachable man who radiates kindly interest in whoever's in front of him.
I got some of what he said on my cell phone video camera, so you can see for yourself. You might have a little trouble hearing, though, since I was sitting a few rows back when I shot it and his voice is low. So turn up the volume -- or, better yet, use your headphones.