'Foreman': film review and interview
Paul Zanon speaks to director Chris Perkel about his new George Foreman documentary, as well as reviewing the 'labour of love' project...
Ahead of 'Foreman' being released this week, I was fortunate enough to catch up with the man behind the lens - director Chris Perkel.
As an ardent sports fan and the editor of‘The Real Rocky,’ (an ESPN 30 for 30 about Chuck Wepner), Perkel makes it clear that the story of Foreman was without a doubt a project which not only gained his interest, but his soul.
“We reached out to the Foreman family and were thrilled that they trusted us and worked with us to make it happen," he says, explaining the speed with which the production came about. "We were all kind of surprised his story hadn’t been told previously.
“We were pitching it for a couple of years, but once we got it set up, it took about a year, which is really fast, relatively speaking.”
Revisiting the life of Big George is like deciding to become a meat eater again after a five-year break as a vegan. This is raw, high-octane entertainment which makes you remember just how much of a wrecking machine this 6'4" colossus was.
But it’s also so much more than that.
You get to meet the man behind the gloves. The kid who grew up in the notoriously tough Fifth Ward district in Texas, who got kicked out of school and ran the streets as a feared character, mugging and mercilessly beating people up. It’s hard to believe that the affable, endearing current-day Foreman had this character, even in a past life, but it’s true. He was a bad man.
Joining the Job Corps proved to be Foreman’s salvation. He became an educated man, learning to read and write and for the first time in his life as well as starting to experience three meals a day. He had a reputation for fighting all the time in the Job Corps, until one day someone said: "Why don’t you think about becoming a boxer?"
The rest, as they say, is history.
After picking up Olympic gold in 1968, the 19-year-old Foreman soon progressed to the professional ranks for a career which proved to be an inspiring and epic journey which is now firmly ingrained in boxing history.
The question is, was the film able to shine a light into any dark corners of Foreman’s life and unearth any rare footage?
The answer is yes. You’ll see some classic dialogue from the likes of Angelo Dundee, Larry Merchant, Howard Cosell and a number of others, but also some great still frames, such as Foreman with a 500lb steer on his back, as part of his training for his five fights in one night extravaganza.
Perkel explained how difficult it was to source said material and also the decision making process in terms of which material and people to include.
“One of our producers was a guy called Matt McDonald and he was our man in charge of the archives and research. He was so thorough that he uncovered stuff that nobody had seen previously.
“In terms of the most memorable contributors to the film? It was interesting because I’d just finished a documentary about Clive Davis, the music executive, and we’d done over 50 interviews, which was overwhelming in terms of the footage. Even though it was all great, there’s only so much footage you can use with that many voices.
"So we made the decision early in this film to keep the circle as small and intimate as we could and use voices close to George and avoid just ‘well known’ boxing people. It was a small interview listing, about 10 or 11, and ultimately they were all great. I’d like to thank George Foreman Jr particularly, who was instrumental in putting this film together, in that we needed family support that would give us that intimate detail about George.”
And in terms of George’s presence behind the camera, Perkel shared with Boxing Monthly the ease in which the punching preacher took on the central role.
“George is kind of what you see is what you get. He’s incredibly smart, very wilful and very curious. For me, the biggest challenge I thought was going to be that he was so used to being on camera and so used to selling, that he’d be in presentation mode. But as it goes, that didn’t become an issue.
"We asked questions from different angles and posed questions which he’s not necessarily asked all the time. It’s not that we were trying to rehash the story, as the emotions would fade from it, we just wanted to provide a fresh angle and he was great in terms of obliging.”
'What you see is what you get', is certainly an apt description and you certainly see and revisit some great parts of Foreman’s journey in the course of this film - everything from the explosive Ron Lyle contest in 1976, through to the destructive second-round knockout of Gerry Cooney in 1990 and beyond.
The pivotal point in Foreman's life was his encounter with God after the Jimmy Young fight. He was ordained as an evangelist preacher shortly after and his comeback to the square ring came many years later, with an adapted style for his size and weight, but also a different persona. The fierce ogre of the heavyweight division was now a mild mannered character at press conferences who smiled a lot. It was a transfomration which beggared belief.
In 1987, after a 10-year hiatus from boxing, everyone wrote Foreman off. As one television presenter said, "He’s gone from spectacular to a spectacle." The turning point of Foreman’s comeback was fighting the then heavyweight champion of the world, Evander Holyfield in 1991. Despite losing this contest, and a points decision to Tommy Morrison in 1993, Foreman was now recognised as a bonafide heavyweight contender again.
Then, in 1994, came the Michael Moorer fight. Moorer was 26 at the time and had just beaten Holyfield. He was an unconventional, awkward southpaw who had outpaced and outmanoeuvred 'The Real Deal'. Nobody gave Foreman a chance.
It was the last-chance saloon for the 45-year-old Texan and going into the tenth round of the championship bout, Foreman was behind on all three judges' scorecards by between one and five points. Aware he needed a knockout to win, he executed the required measure with a big right hand, flooring Moorer to become the oldest heavyweight champion of the world in history.
It was Foreman’s 73rd victory as a pro and provides a classic quote in the film from the man himself whilst we see him watching the contest: “He [Moorer] goes to the body, but I was protected with cheeseburgers.”
As an undoubted labour of love, Perkel explains why we should go and see this film.
“To me, George’s story is so remarkable. It’s almost a bigger, more absurdly impossible story than the actual Rocky film. I think there’s a reason why boxing stories make such great movies, because they’re so concrete in their drama.
"I think George’s is an incredible story about perseverance about a man who achieves his greatest accomplishments once he becomes a better person. It’s an impossibly improbable story.
"There’s a lot of athletes out there that seem to be driven by a chip on their shoulder or negative emotion and that helps fuel them, and that’s fine. But if we’re trying to teach our kids what we want them to engage in the world, I’d would rather much take a George Foreman role model. Someone who was able to achieve greatness, without becoming an antisocial personality.”
In summation, 'Foreman' is a nostalgic masterclass with thoroughbred pedigree throughout.
It’s a heartwarming film that will make you feel like you’re sitting in front of Foreman in his lounge. Without a doubt, it’s worth a watch.
'Foreman' is released on EST on 13 November, and DVD & VOD on 27 November