I Am Ali
He is arguably the greatest sportsperson to have ever lived – and, to those who comprised his inner sanctum, he is the greatest man to have ever lived. Born in 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky, Cassius Clay began boxing at the age of 12. After winning the first of three heavyweight titles in 1964, he unveiled himself as Mohammad Ali and a legend was born.
I Am Ali, directed by Clare Lewins, is an exhaustive account of the life of a sporting and cultural icon. It spans seven decades, from the late 1950s to the present day. Lewins explores Ali’s rise from an upbringing blighted by the racial prejudice of the segregated South to a life defined by his remarkable boxing achievements and influence as a countercultural icon during the Civil Rights Movement.
Using archive footage and previously unheard audio recordings, Lewins presents two sides of the man who was hailed as a saviour by African-Americans, and a subversive Islamist by the US establishment. The public figure appears as a turgid, competitive behemoth, while the private man is a tender and highly principled father who cherished his children beyond any sporting aspirations.
Attempting to bring a fresh perspective to an all-too-familiar biography, Lewins’ account results in a largely confused film. Incorporating misplaced stylistic techniques into an overly complicated narrative leaves the audience stranded and at a loss to follow the director’s trajectory. The film cavorts through the decades at high velocity, interweaving sporting highlights with misplaced accounts, making it difficult to know which decade is being referred to and what event is being recounted.
Lewins’ nostalgic revisionism also fails to acknowledge some of the darker aspects of Ali’s character. Extra-marital affairs, absenteeism from family life, aggressive taunting of opponents and accusations of racism against Joe Frazier are barely alluded to, despite being as much a part of the myth of Mohammad Ali as his public accomplishments. There is equally little reference to his ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease and the global awareness of the condition he has promoted.
I Am Ali recounts the life of a man who floated more like a butterfly than stung like a bee, and does so in an unbalanced and meandering fashion. Nonetheless, this portrayal of an icon is worth watching. Lewins’ appraisal highlights the impact of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, and leaves no doubt why Mohammad Ali is worthy of the title “living legend”.
I Am Ali is released nationwide on 28th November 2014.
Watch the trailer for I Am Ali here: