Facing Ali, Facing Ourselves
I was twenty years old drinking Jack Daniels at the Mug, Vassar's bar. It was 1978 and I needed alcohol. Leon Spinks was beating a hero. Every now and again a glimpse of old Ali floated in, stung Spinks and floated back out. In those moments Spinks understood there was a time not all that long ago when he couldn't carry the man's robe much less stagger him with wide looping rights. Sitting at the bar doing something I only did every now and again, drinking, I understood all youth is brash and ignorant (mostly). This "ignorance of youth" creates easy courage, courage without definition or pain. Ali this February night in 1978 exhibited a different courage, a courage informed by time, age and pain.
In remembering this thirty year memory I may project more self awareness than my twenty year old self could muster. Even through the haze of several shots of Jack Daniels I sensed time's passing watching youth beat greatness. No one's youth lasts. My twenty year old self was sending my fifty year old soul a precognition that night in the Mug. "Summon courage even when you know its full implication, be like Ali" I etched into blurry inexperienced gray matter. Or maybe it was just the booze (lol).
Here is part of the email I sent to Pete McCormack, Director of the great documentary film Facing Ali, today:
I'm stunned after watching Facing Ali. Like most, I have strong feelings for and about Ali. Watching him fight was always an event even though I didn't really start watching until toward the end. Even as a kid (in my twenties) I knew there was more going on than a fight. Ali was as close to the Nietzschian superman as I was likely to ever see. Except Facing Ali is filled with quiet calm men who stand next to Ali as "supermen". Certainly there is damage, but your film points to a greater and more meaningful truth - these men lived full courageous lives. They are heroes. One truth we sense and your GREAT movie proves is no man becomes a hero for free. Life costs as George Chuvalo, Ron Lyle, George Forman and Ken Norton show.Here is part of Pete's very nice email back:
Thanks for that wonderful, generous letter. I was truly touched and appreciate it very much. That was the emotion from the film I was hoping people would get—although, of course, I want people to have whatever emotions it brings up...well, assuming they're not too dangerous emotions. Hitting themselves with left hooks or whatever.
Really, thanks a million. Or in this economic climate, a million-five
Thanks Pete. Martin