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Michael Mann’s Ali and Lister fight

It’s interesting how boxing movies bring the “emotional” out of man. It is violent. Yet movies such as Rocky are packed with emotionally driven story lines. Enough to make a man weep. Boxing. As Mann describes the work of art, “Ali”, he explains this concept of defining struggle through the man, not the icon. Only then can we connect with the story, an inner journey of overcoming, and giving birth to something profound and hard fought for. It isn’t the vacuous success that the mass media currently loves to attribute to pop star wannabes. Real talent comes out of something far more raw than just hunger for fame. I mentioned in a previous post Amy Winehouse. Her voice was beyond her years, her lyrics self written, coming from a deeply person place. Not some crude pen of a commercial song writer. Amy Winehouse became an icon, but the real person hood, the struggle, was what defined her journey and her ability to not only write, but to express it both in her voice and performance. Her journey, her story ended in tragedy. Fame and her life sometimes never looked so bleak. Yet her life was one also lived in uncommon brilliance.

Back to Ali. One scene that famously stands out is the one where we see Ali’s struggle manifest into power and beauty. It is the Ali and Lister fight. In the making of Ali you can see Michael Mann alone with portable wide angled camera lens and body, getting into the thick of the fight, making his own “shots”. Mann in a strange way becomes part of the fight. It is an even more tangible symbiosis of the craft of filming and the craft of acting creating moments that in this scene are poetic. To amplify the rise of Ali, we hear the notes of music stepping into the scene, heightening our sense of something great happening. It has Mann’s spine tingling signature all over it. The red lines of rope and converging ceiling lights that blur in and out in different shapes energize our senses and give that sense of higher reality that transcends the external reality only the eye sees. Mann has this ability to use external visuals to create some sort of truth. The truth of the event happening. The music is what emotionally connects us with the visual message and what is happening on the actors’ faces. It is an orchestra.

We will see similar shots used in the forthcoming “Luck”. Mann wanting the cameras in the heart of the action. To put us in there, amongst the riders. It isn’t just the action that Mann is interested in, it is the intensity of humanity that happens in those moments of high performance and what it feels like to be in those shoes (or stirrops!).

It is extraordinary to think that this scene is just that – one scene. Ali the movie is a broad canvas, and has so much more to offer.

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