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What Techniques Has Leon Gast Applied to Engage His Audience in When We Were Kings

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Essay title: What Techniques Has Leon Gast Applied to Engage His Audience in When We Were Kings

Throughout the year I have been studying the documentary 'When We Were Kings' based around the 1974 World Boxing Championship fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. The fight was staged in Zaire, Africa and is subsequently predominantly an African influenced film, although still effective in delivering the story and exposition of one of the greatest sporting moments of our modern era. Through use of a complex sound track - including live sound and interviews from the past - Gast is able to entice me to continue viewing the colourful, musical and exciting documentary. Using a majority of archival footage combined with a cast of experts and witness' Leon Gast captures the moment whilst providing us with the necessary background information and detail. A number of questions are asked and social issues raised providing us with a contrast of morals and ideals creating a fast moving, intriguing look at an event adopted in to boxing folklore as the greatest of all time. Although Gast is unable to incorporate much of his craft - due to a majority of archival footage - he is still able to build tension and demonstrate importance through his shot selection, use of motifs and selection of music.

When I viewed Gast's dramatic yet uplifting look at the 1974 World Heavyweight Boxing title fight in Zaire, I was engaged through his use of evocative and up-beat music. Music plays almost constantly throughout and is effective in establishing a mood of fun and excitement about the brutal bout. To begin the film Gast introduces us to the tribal rhythms of Zaire, I believe to signify the origins of both fighters and the importance of cultural links between America, Africa and the evolution of popular culture. Gast also employs the use of a mysterious African women - a dancer and performer - through use of close up's and intense, tension building rhythms. She appears throughout the documentary and we are told later that a witch doctor predicted Foreman might be defeated by use of a voodoo spell involving a "woman with fluttering hands". Whether there is any element of truth to the prediction, Gast's inclusion of this native African lady is clearly to provide an element of mystery and intrigue around not only the fight in Zaire, but also Ali's greatness. The tribal rhythms and traditional African music work well for Gast and are effective in portraying the mood and atmosphere surrounding events leading up to the shock defeat of then heavyweight champion of the world, George Foreman. Gast's use of live footage from the "African Woodstock" of superstars of the music of the day - James Brown, and BB King - I found particularly effective in portraying the importance of a culture returning to it's origins. The energy created by performers such as James Brown can do nothing but up the tempo and build excitement, while the slow, sombre blues solos of BB king remind us of Ali's daunting task. Gast has been able to provide tempo and excitement to a lot of his black and white / archival footage and engages us by launching in to exciting music straight after the slower, almost monotonous - compared with the rest of the film - recounts of historical witness' such as Norman Mailer and George Plimpton. The music used by Gast is by Ali's definition the music of "my brothers" or "black man's music" and what better music to reflect the mood and atmosphere at the pinnacle of Ali's career and breaking free of black America.

Gast began filming 'When We Were Kings' in 1974 after he was hired to go and film the rock concert that was to be staged alongside the fight. Gast took so much footage that it took him twenty three years to sort and find backing for his Ali epic, and it all paid of through Gast's achievement at the Academy Awards. For Gast to be that involved - that he shot so much relevant footage - and to have pursued his vision until completion, he must have received so much inspiration from Muhammad Ali and the events surrounding the 1974 Championship bout. This was clearly portrayed to me by the depths

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