cinema visual

Groundbreaking / William Klein's Ali

David Remnick's excel­lent biog­ra­phy of Muham­mad Ali, King of the World con­tains a tru­ly stun­ning scene that sprung to mind dur­ing last week's inau­gu­ra­tion. Before Ali's first big bout, a meet­ing with Son­ny Lis­ton, the press didn't know what to make of Ali's con­fi­dence and bom­bast. A reporter asked: "Cas­sius, all these things you're say­ing about Lis­ton, do you real­ly mean them? Do you real­ly think you're going to beat this guy?"

Ali: I'm Christo­pher Colum­bus … I believe I'll win. I've nev­er been in there with him, but I believe the world is round and they all believe the world is flat. Maybe I'll fall off the world at the hori­zon but I believe the world is round.1

I feel like there's a thread that runs direct­ly from this state­ment to last Tuesday's inau­gu­ra­tion, and it made me want to dig deep­er into Ali, the myth-mak­er. So last night I watched a 1964 doc­u­men­tary, made by pho­tog­ra­ph­er William Klein, called Muham­mad Ali: The Great­est; it's includ­ed in a recent Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion release called The Deliri­ous Fic­tions of William Klein, which is cheap‑o on Ama­zon right now, actually. 

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - TitleTypog­ra­phy suits the sub­ject. ALI. Yeah.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - AliKlein is known for his still pho­tog­ra­phy, and he brings a photographer's eye, and a cav­a­lier atti­tude toward edit­ing. The movie is a mon­tage of spon­tane­ity and action, trac­ing Ali's path from the build-up to his first fight with Son­ny Lis­ton to the Rum­ble in the Jun­gle with George Foreman.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Joe LouisKlein catch­es a nice glimpse of anoth­er ground­break­ing fig­ure.

William Klein - Muhammad Ali - Mysterious punchAli's sec­ond fight with Lis­ton became infa­mous for the "phan­tom" punch that end­ed it. Rumors abound that Lis­ton took a dive, either because he bet against him­self or because he was afraid that the Nation of Islam would seek revenge if Ali lost. See it for your­self on the YouTubez.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Kids in ZaireKlein cap­tures some amaz­ing moments around the Rum­ble, which took place in Zaire, 1974.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Foreman fanThe whole nation appears to be in and around the sta­di­um. When We Were Kings tells the whole sto­ry. It will blow your mind, and make you love Nor­man Mail­er at the same time.

Muhammad Ali - William Klein - Mobutu Sese SekoMobu­tu Sese Seko, Zaire's strong­man pres­i­dent, is omnipresent in Klein's footage from the fight. I love this image of his head slow­ly com­ing into focus from the clouds.

lit the ancient past


John Updike - Time

I love writ­ing let­ters, but for some rea­son the only let­ter-to-the-edi­tor I've ever writ­ten went some­thing like this: 

Dear Mr. Rem­nick, If you pub­lish one more sto­ry by John Updike, so help me God I will can­cel my sub­scrip­tion immediately.Sincerely, Doug LeMoine

The year was 1999. I had been dri­ven to what I saw as the brink — of patience! of san­i­ty! — by the New Yorker's inces­sant pub­lish­ing of Updike's fic­tion, which seemed (to me) not only inces­sant, but over-styl­ized, nau­se­at­ing­ly East Coast-ish, maudlin, wood­en. No mat­ter my mood, I found it insuf­fer­able and insult­ing, tone-deaf when it came to any­thing but old­er white guys. I don't like to speak ill of the depart­ed, so I'll stop there and I'll admit that I've soft­ened in the mean­time. Updike's lit­er­ary crit­i­cism is — who can argue? — instruc­tive and insight­ful. He knew his stuff, and I felt enriched (some­times grudg­ing­ly so) when I read his reviews. With regard to the afore­men­tioned let­ter, my hand was forced almost imme­di­ate­ly. Updike had pub­lished some­thing like 25,000 sto­ries in the New York­er to that point, so I might as well have told John Hen­ry to stop dri­ving steel, or for Jer­ry Gar­cia to stop jam­ming. By the time my let­ter was flut­ter­ing into David Remnick's trash­can, I was already being forced to make good on my threat, a task that was ulti­mate­ly embar­rass­ing in its cold, bureau­crat­ic exe­cu­tion. Con­trary to any engaged reader's con­cep­tion of the pub­lish­er-read­er rela­tion­ship, when you say "I'd like to can­cel my sub­scrip­tion," they don't trans­fer you to the desk of the edi­tor so that you can ream him a new one. You hear a few key­strokes, and then get asked if there's any­thing else you need help with. Upon reflec­tion, this expe­ri­ence was a life les­son in itself. Mr. Updike, I thank you, and I wish you well.