Saturday, May 14, 2011
Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears
"He got as much out of himself as there was to give, and maybe more, and you can't ask any more of any man, including yourself" - Larry Merchant
I was privileged, recently, to view a video of the new documentary "Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears". Joe Frazier's story has been told time and time again. The story is familiar to us by now. Yet director Mike Todd still managed to give us a fresh perspective on Frazier's life and career. Narrated by Joe's eldest son, Marvis Frazier, along with testimonials from family, friends and boxing personalities, including George Foreman, Bernard Hopkins and Larry Merchant, who share some candid memories. However, this is much more than a "This is Your Life" documentary. It is more like a well crafted, tightly woven tapestry that comes together to form a beautifully clear picture of it's subject, in this case "Smokin' Joe" Frazier, former undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
The film begins with Frazier singing a reworked song made famous by Frank Sinatra, "My Way" and he was indeed doing it his way, as only "Smokin' Joe" can, a little slow perhaps and a little off key but with a passion and heart that has defined Joe Frazier to his legion of fans and admirers. The common belief is that Joe Frazier has been left bitter on the issue of Muhammad Ali, maybe at one time, but this peek into his current life says otherwise. If anything Frazier seems content with his place in boxing history, he is content with what he knows. So is his family. Joe Frazier is truly loved by his family, friends and fans and the film seems to answer that question "is it better to be popular or well liked?" As this film shows, being well liked, or loved, in this case, travels a lot deeper than popularity. I believe this is where Frazier draws his contentment and satisfaction. Frazier seems to relish the attention and enjoys talking about the 1971 "Fight of the Century", a fight he won by unanimous decision.
Marvis Frazier, who wears his love for his famous father on his sleeves, has become, in a sense, the defender and protector of his father's legacy. The bond between father and son is at the core of the film. A brief look back at Marvis Frazier's fight with Larry Holmes was somewhat emotional and we see Joe's pain, immediately after the fight. Both Frazier's have continually given back to the community both in the rural south where Joe was born and in Philadelphia where he lives today. In the south he is remembered as a local boy made good who has never forgotten where he came from and in Philadelphia, a town known for the ferocious gym wars and tough fighters, where he is heralded as the epitome of a "Philly Fighter". There are a couple of other clips, including Ali vs Frazier I and Frazier vs Foreman I, but the film focuses more on the Joe Frazier of today. This is the story that is being told
Growing up in the South, and later Philadelphia, Frazier experienced the full gamut of the black experience in America, contrary to the way he was portrayed by Muhammad Ali during their well covered rivalry. Joe, a proud man and more importantly, a proud black man has stayed close to his roots; family, friends and community. He has done so as the owner and operator of the Joe Frazier Gym, along with his son Marvis. Much of this documentary was filmed in the gym. Sadly, the gym was closed earlier this year for financial reasons. Still, that doesn't take away from what Frazier has accomplished over the years, nor can we ever count the number of young men that have been helped along the way, whether they became fighters or just good citizens.
There are some scenes in the film where an elderly Frazier is seen working the bag and shadowboxing in the ring. If you look closely, into his eyes, you can still see the fire burning inside. That wry smile and knowing look gives the impression that Muhammad Ali is still on the receiving end of his punches, thus the look of satisfaction on his face. I cannot say with 100% certainty, that Joe Frazier has exorcised the bitter memories of his rivalry with Ali, nor can I say that he has truly forgiven him for the cruel words that cut Joe deeply. All I can say for sure is, that Joe Frazier has learned to deal with it, and is living life "His Way" and on his terms.
If you are a fight fan, especially if you are a life long fan of Smokin' Joe Frazier, as I am, than you will be moved by this film, and in the long run, isn't that what art is all about?
Written and Directed by: Mike Todd
Produced by: Geseth Garcia, Mike Todd & Louise Rosen
Director of Photography: Quenell Jones
Narrated by: Marvis Frazier
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