Like many aspects of Muhammad Ali’s life, this photo of him defeating Sonny Liston in 1965 transcended boxing. A new documentary assesses Ali’s impact inside the ring and out.
“There it was, legendary frame by legendary frame, frozen in time — continual snapshots when gladiators armed with red gloves and the power to persuade either championed the twisted hearts of this country, or drew the endless ire of it. And to think: This film reel of immortals was rescued from being dispatched to a landfill. If not for one Pennsylvania archivist, 38 reels of 16mm color reversal film of the best, most brutal boxing match in history would’ve landed in a sea of rubbish. Untouched, unseen, unfulfilled. Years earlier, Janice Allen salvaged a number of boxes tossed in a dumpster outside a film lab that had recently shut up shop for good. One box had ‘Ali’ written on it. She stashed it away in her warehouse, never knowing that one day someone she knew would call and ask about footage of the greatest ever. This was early on during the production of ‘Muhammad Ali,’ the upcoming documentary film series on PBS by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon. PBS producer Stephanie Jenkins had worked with Allen on previous productions, and when she reached out to inquire about any Ali footage that could be used in the film, the light bulb went off. There was that unexplored piece of treasure buried in the warehouse somewhere. Allen found the old box, and Jenkins immediately drove two hours from New York City to the offices of the John E. Allen archive in Newfoundland, Pa., to see what precisely was on those reels. For two days, Jenkins’ existence was hand-cranking — manually putting the reel of film up on split reels and gently spinning through the footage while looking at individual frames to see what they contain — through 38 reels of the ‘Thrilla in Manila,’ the third and most brutal installment of the ruthless Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier rivalry. The footage, including some of the lead-up to the fight and much of its ringside action, had never seen the light of day. Jenkins ordered a 4k digital transfer of 10 reels of fight footage, including the cringiest slow-motion hits delivered by both Ali and Frazier. It reduces, as the film details, grizzled sportswriters to tears reliving a night they cannot forget. … The film, an eight-hour inspection of Ali’s fabled life, serves as a reminder for those lucky enough to watch him fight and listen to his words and as a necessary exploration for younger generations who know about Muhammad Ali, but have yet to meet him the way previous generations had. …”
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