Documentarian Robert Bader has made several compilations of video from Dick Cavett’s various talk shows. He has a new one on HBO this month entitled “Ali & Cavett: The Tale Of The Tapes.” It follows the unusual friendship that developed over the course of numerous appearances by boxing champion Muhammad Ali on Cavett’s TV talk shows. It includes footage of Ali at various points in his career, from the upstart Olympian to the conscientious objector who refused to go to Vietnam to the Black Muslim who denounced white people while under the tutelage of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Bader includes interviews with sportswriters and others who observed Ali during those years, as well as non-Cavett footage of The Champ. But it’s in those segments where Ali sat with Cavett and spoke candidly about all sorts of things — sometimes bragging about his achievements in the ring, sometimes returning after suffering a humiliating loss — that reveal their relationship as it grows from merely host and guest to close friends. Some of the last visits, when Cavett practically begs Ali to stop fighting for the sake of his health, are heartbreaking to watch. The documentary is running all month on HBO.
“Tom Papa: You’re Doing Great” is the latest standup special from the veteran comic and Sirius XM radio host. The overriding theme is that your life is fine, so there’s no need to get jealous of things you see on social media, no reason to keep lying about losing weight, no reason to ever go on a cruise ship, and more. Papa has a very dry delivery, but chooses his words well and, even when bantering with audience members in the front row, displays a very quick wit — which was also apparent when he was on the panel for the most recent episode of NPR’s “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me” quiz show. Papa’s special is streaming now on Netflix.
“The Black Godfather” is a documentary by Reginald Hudlin (whose “Marshall” was an underrated gem in 2017) about Clarance Avant, who spent his entire career working behind the scenes as a master connector and deal maker. He’s one of those guys who knew everyone, could get meetings with anyone, and at some point seems to have represented the entirety of show business. Among some of his accomplishments: he saved the Don Cornelius dance show “Soul Train,” organized campaign benefits for Andrew Young and Jimmy Carter, made Coca-Cola get into business with Hank Aaron before he hit the home run that broke Babe Ruth’s record, turned Bill Withers into an R&B star, gave Jimmy Jam and LA Reid their starts as music producers, got Jim Brown into movies, and on and on. There are dozens of interviews with people Avant either helped or influenced and his wife and grown children, as well as lifetime friend Quincy Jones, who knows the man better than anyone. “The Black Godfather” is another one of those documentaries that introduced me to a story I knew nothing about. It is currently streaming on Netflix.