When We Were Kings (1997)

Fighting for better narrative conventions

When We Were Kings is a sloppy documentary. It relies to heavily on the authority of George Plimpton and Norman Mailer to add drama and significance to the Ali / Forman fight. Other times, the film leans heavily on concert footage and musical montages to pad the film. While the original footage, shot in Zaire in 1974 is the most compelling aspect of the picture, the filmmakers stare at Africa with the eyes of tourists.

I recall watching this one in the theaters when it was first released where I was more enamoured with it then I am today. I wish we were allowed to just witness the fight, to hear from those in the footage how important this match was to both men, to Zaire, and to race relations back in the U.S.. Instead, a series of talking heads is constantly popping in to stress these points.


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