Thrilla in Manilla on HBO
by Annie Vinton
Thrilla in Manilla – A Thrilla for All.
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My Take: Take a ringside seat – a “must see” for all, not just boxing fans.
You’ll want to pull up a ringside seat for Thrilla in Manila, another great HBO production that will warrant non-subscribers to order this cable service for the premier on April 11th at 8pm ET. The title, slightly varying from what the final fight between Frazier and Ali was originally coined, “Thriller in Manila” captures more than the historic boxing match - it delves into betrayal between two friends and complex race relations of the 1970’s.
Thrilla in Manila opens with a snapshot of Frazier’s home in the Badlands of Philadelphia and although it’s reminiscent of scenes from Rocky or Million Dollar Baby, this is Frazier’s reality. It was difficult for me to comprehend that one of the world’s most iconic boxers lives in a decrepit room attached to his gym, “Joe’s Gym” but Frazier reminds us without apologies, “Home is where you make your home.”
Triple threat writer, director and producer John Dower had a specific agenda for this film and it was to give Frazier a voice about this slice of history. The film juxtaposes between present and past day footage and interviews from both boxing camps with analysis of the final match and the time period just prior to it. It was what was happening outside of the ring that provoked an emotional sparring between the two, leaving deep wounds, still not mended.
Lively characters like Ali’s doctor, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco and one of the last living members from Frazier’s corner, Georgie Benton, are not interviewed together but Dower cleverly strings their conversations together to tell the story. Moments woven in between the audience are sure to remember include Frazier watching footage of the final fight for the first time since 1975, after much cajoling from Dower. It’s a one camera shot of him sitting in a chair in a dark room and he’s heard coaching the TV, “Get closer, get closer!” Frazier felt that he should not have given Ali the room that he did and less “breathing room” could have made a difference in the battle. What also is revealed is that Frazier boxed a few of the rounds virtually blind.
Another moment most will probably be surprised to see is Ali speaking at a KKK rally, reminding us all of Ali’s influence and power outside of the ring and his views on race relations in the ‘70’s. As the narrative described, these two fighters were “caught in the battle of the soul of Black America.”
Although the centerpiece of Thrilla in Manila highlights one of the most historical boxing bouts, it’s a story for non-boxing fans too. Frazier’s hope is that those watching can get a true of understanding of his relationship with Ali and what they were to each other, not just what was created in the media. More importantly he wants the message of the importance of loyalty, dedication, hard work and focus in any area of life to be delivered to today’s generation. This may be a little lost in this film, but overall this story clearly is a testament to Frazier’s quiet and respectable perseverance. It’s a “must see” and no doubt, will create water cooler talk on Monday morning.
Annie Vinton Annie Vinton is a freelance writer and film critic living in NYC. You can read more about her and her writing at her blog here.
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