MUHAMMAD ALI, THE GREATEST Rating: NNNN
Made two decades before When We Were Kings and the Will Smith biopic, Ali, William Klein's 1974 portrait packs the charge of the present tense. It follows the curve of Ali's ascent in restless black-and-white, then leaps to delirious colour for the Rumble In The Jungle. This restored 35mm print should show off the immediacy of Klein's verité camera work. Klein goes beyond the two later films in putting Ali in context, from the Southern white backers who made up the Louisville syndicate to black Harlem bohemians doing Cassius Clay improv. Malcolm X, interviewed two weeks before his assassination, gives a cogent read of what Ali means for America.
Klein, an American impressionist filmmaker who's lived in France for decades (in 1967 he co-directed Far From Vietnam with Jean-Luc Godard and others), gives this film a pop-modernist politic. More than once he stitches Ali's boasts into their natural landscape: American advertising. (August 22-24, Paradise; August 25-26, Royal; August 27-28, Music Hall)