Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Joe Frazier -vs- Muhammal Ali | 40th Anniversary Film

Frazier vs Ali – New York, March 8, 1971
16mm Color Sound, 28 Minutes (Excerpt)

The Fight
On the 40th anniversary of The Fight, it’s an honor to be able to post an excerpt of the original theatrical Frazier-Ali I movie. This was the first in the Ali-Frazier trilogy. In my view it was the best. The Manila fight has become better known, having been broadcast on ESPNCL repeatedly for years. However, for youth, skill, pace and drama, the first fight brought it all.

The Movie
This film is a milestone in boxing history. Frazier-Ali I was one of the last major fights to be filmed by motion picture cameras as well as video. The cablecast of the fight remains a high watermark for recording championship fights. Those who have a copy of the video are fortunate. The copyright owners have rarely allowed the video to be rebroadcast, and it has never been commercially issued on DVD. In fact, the portions of Frazier-Ali I that were originally shown in the recent BBC “Thriller in Manila” documentary were removed from the DVD release and replaced with still photos.

The film version of Frazier-Ali I is equally remarkable. Producer William Greaves was granted unprecedented access to Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali and to Madison Square Garden for the fight. Greaves 16mm film team were at ringside, in the audience and alongside the television crews. They recorded the fight from a dozen angles, including action not captured by the TV cameras, as in the 11th round when the ring ropes kept Ali from falling to the canvas. By today’s rules, it would have been ruled a knockdown. The film, more than the cablecast, captures the fury of the fight.

Within 5 days of the fight, and in great haste, this 27 minute version of the fight was shown in movie theaters. Unfortunately, it was not the entire fight, and there was a near riot in one theater. However, Greaves later released a longer and complete documentary called “The Fighters” which I was lucky to see in a theater months after the fight. Greaves has also used the footage for several films about Muhammad Ali.

The Video
I was fortunate to obtain a very good 16mm print of the original release. It’s perhaps a second generation copy, and printed on the red saturated color film stock which was typical for the day. For that I did some color correction. The film is narrated by Don Dunphy, who also called the live cablecast. The post fight footage is especially interesting. Greaves either did not have access to the PA feed, or chose to use the open air audio. I’ve been to Madison Square Garden for a title fight and it’s hard to hear the PA when the noise level is up. As a result in the film, Johnny Adie’s announcement of Frazier as the winner is nearly lost under the crowd chanting, and Dunphy, the narrator, never actually says that Frazier won the decision. I hope you enjoy this taste of the film. With respect to Greaves, I’m only showing the opening credits and Round 15.

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