While Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes has many fun moments, there’s some sadness in knowing that The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, is no longer living.
It’s through the documentary that comedian Dick Cavett pays tribute to his friend through footage shown from The Dick Cavett Show. The film, of course, is grounded through the archival footage but also features new interview footage of Cavett, who says he “can get very sentimental” in talking and thinking about the Louisville native. The two were friends until Ali passed away in June 2016. While their first meeting had come when Ali appeared on The Jerry Lewis Show in 1963, Ali went on to make a countless number of appearances on The Dick Cavett Show. They were quick to become friends.
There is so much of Ali’s personal history discussed and these interview appearances serve as a time capsule. Cavett offers his own thoughts on some of what Ali was going through, even believing that the boxer had been made a “mouthpiece” for the Nation of Islam. It wouldn’t be a documentary without talking about Ali’s outspoken views on the Vietnam War. His refusal to fight overseas led to the World Boxing Association to strip him of his title. Because of the legal issues that resulted from not wanting to fight the war, Ali was exiled from the sport for a number of years.
The classic fights against Liston, Frazier, and Foreman are discussed. The Frazier fight was so huge that later on, both would make a joint appearance on Cavett’s show. It was an entertaining appearance to say the least.
The documentary’s most emotional moment comes late in the film with footage from the 1996 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Atlanta. This was when swimmer Janet Evans handed over the torch to Muhammad Ali. This iconic event came twelve years after Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
In choosing the music for the end titles, Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” plays in the background against a montage of photos and clips. It’s a great choice because that’s how many of us wish to remember Ali: in his prime.
One of the sad thing that comes with watching Ali & Cavett: The Tape of The Tapes is noticing how the social and political commentary that Ali discussed with Cavett in the 1960s and 1970s is just as relevant today. By including the commentary, the film becomes more than a sports documentary and that’s not entirely a bad thing.
DIRECTOR: Robert S. Bader
CAST: Dick Cavett, Rev. Al Sharpton, Larry Merchant, Ilyasah Shabazz, Juan Williams, Thomas Hauser, Randy Roberts, Clarence Taylor, Michael Marley
Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes was an official selection of the 2018 SXSW Film Festival. The film premiered as a part of the Documentary Spotlight program.