These conflicting perspectives inform this powerful documentary from beginning to end as Siegel traces Ali's triumph with a gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics to heavyweight championships, from conversion to Islam to conscientious objector status when drafted to serve in Vietnam. Even for those of us who remember these events, "The Trials of Muhammad Ali" provides a privileged access to history, privileged because it draws on numerous contemporary interviews as well as superb selections from public and personal archival footage.
In the course of the film, we hear several times from Gordon B. Davidson, the sole living man of the eleven who managed then Cassius Clay from 1960 to 1966. Also noteworthy, Rahaman Ali speaks emotionally about his brother Muhammad as we visit their Louisville boyhood home. Also on the record in new interviews are John Carlos (who gave the black power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics), New York Times sportswriter Robert Lipsyte who has covered Ali since 1964, Louis Farrakhan, Khalilah Carnacho-Ali (Ali's wife from 1967 to 1975), and Ali's daughter Hana. Adding context, news clips of Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others add depth and breadth.
"The Trials of Muhammad Ali" encompass Ali's bouts in and out of the ring (and there's some great fight footage) and his conscientious objector status ruled on by the Supreme Court. The film delivers another powerful image as it concludes, with Ali's lighting the 1996 Olympic torch in Atlanta, a moment that then and now gives me goose bumps.
A superb documentary devoted to important history "The Trials of Muhammad Ali" is at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 21st through Sunday, February 23rd. For more information, you may call 314-968-7487 or on the web at: Webster.edu/filmseries.