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The most ferocious boxer to ever step inside the ring, Mike Tyson was at age 20 the youngest heavyweight champion in history. But within a few short years, the baddest man on the planet was himself on the ropes, the victim of his own rage and fear. Told exclusively through the compelling words and commentary of Iron Mike himself, TYSON is a powerfully frank and provocative look at one of the most controversial and misunderstood sports figures of all time.
In his younger days, the former heavyweight champ liked to say, "No one really knows Mike Tyson." Director James Toback, who befriended him while making 1999’s Black and White, allows Tyson to speak for himself as he illustrates his words through archival footage and fight clips, culminating in a subjective portrait that begins in empathy before ending somewhere more enigmatic. Neglected as a child, the Brooklyn-born youth took solace in his pigeons--much like Marlon Brando's boxer in On the Waterfront--before turning to stealing and brawling in his teens until legendary trainer Cus D'Amato spotted his talent and helped him to develop the discipline and self-confidence he lacked. Tyson fought many of his most famous bouts after D'Amatos death, but never quite recovered from the loss. Toback tracks the fighter’s rise in the 1980s, followed by his fall in the '90s and ‘00s: the turbulent marriage to actress Robin Givens, the infamous ear-biting incident, and the notorious rape conviction (about which he maintains his innocence). The filmmaker captures his now-retired subject in a reflective mood, and Tyson comes across as considerably more humble and eloquent than his reputation suggests--he describes boxing impresario Don King as "wretched, reptilian, and slimy" and has a special fondness for the word "skullduggery"--but continues to battle loneliness and feelings of abandonment, even fighting back a few tears at times. Tyson may disappoint those looking for the trash-talking pugilist of old, but Toback proves there's more to Iron Mike than meets the eye. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Stills from Tyson (Click for larger image)
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A Day with James Toback
Iron Mike: Toback talks Tyson
The Fabulous Picture Show
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In many ways this Hieronymous Bosch-like documentary answers not only the questions of boxing fans concerning precisely *why* the man with a left arm containing deadly titanium embarked on a campaign of personal, public, and professional self destruction; it also shatters the cruel image that the general public has of Tyson as a sociopathic animal. Indeed, his name itself has become synonymous in everyday life with brutality, aggression, and rape (a rape which I highly doubt he committed).
Mike Tyson's psyche, compromised as it is by trauma, brain damage, mental illness, and post traumatic stress disorder was apparently on task for Toback's rigorous expose of the man's psyche. There are times when he does come across as slightly inarticulate, archaic in the way he speaks (as the director noted in his "Special Features": "Mike's relationship to language is physical, concrete.") Almost poetic, I'd say: Tyson tells the truth with an almost amusingly crude flair that one cannot help but find amusing.
Tyson grew up in a section of NYC that is uninhabitable for human beings (Brownsville) and the rate of survival is perhaps akin to that of humans living during the Black Death. He recalls quite freely being beaten up, abandoned by his parents, and really being little more than a frightened child who wanted to little else but play with his homing pigeons, which he had in a small coop in the tiny, broken down apartment he lived in. "I never wanted to fight no one", he says at one point. "Guys held us up at gunpoint, took our cookies, everything we had." One day, though, an older man started to hassle Tyson about his pigeons and calling him a sissy for having them. To prove his point, he broke the pigeon's neck right in front of him. Tyson learned to fight that day and beat the guy up so badly that earned the respect of the people in the area.
He gives a satisfying story about beating the hell out of Don King in front of a group of rich sycophants in Beverly Hills, but most of his life (aside from when he unified all the divisions by winning every belt possible) is tragedy. He is proud, one can tell, of having done things in boxing that no one ever has before; but he is aware more of what might have been.
What I found most interesting was the technique Toback used. One sees and hears Tyson on four different screens, his mouth, his eyes, a sort of sensory assault from the Baddest Man On the Planet. This is also confirmed for me that Evander Holyfield, while still a great boxer, will do whatever he has to do in order to win. The first fight he "accidentally" headbutted Tyson twice, cutting his eye and disabling him. The second time he did the same thing, and Tyson's trauma from prison, his extreme rage, and his recognition that Evander Holyfield was being seen as "the good guy" even when he was fouling him on purpose all exploded into the notorious "ear biting" moment. Holyfield knew he couldn't win, and he was actually pretty successful at his Machievellian (not Christian) strategy: make Tyson look like a nutcase by provoking him, and then create the myth that he committed the foul in order to escape the fight. (Holyfield was no Muhammad Ali, and though Tyson mentions that they were friends, he does not once address whether he could have handled The Greatest in the ring.)
A fantastic film for boxing fans and *especially* non boxing fans. Watch especially for the part where Tyson recites a poem by Oscar Wilde, which, believe it or not, he knew by heart.
Toback has been friends with the former heavyweight champion for several years and it shows as Tyson unguardedly reveals to the camera the damaged contradictive person that exists behind the popular image of his merely being some kind of brutal animal. Other than the numerous segments of archival television footage showing Tyson in the ring, in interviews or being followed in public, Toback's documentary zeroes in on its subject and leaves Tyson the only person to appear on screen, his voice the only one that is heard. Sometimes he is shown in split screen with snippets of his monologue looped to repeat or overlapped to form a sound collage, presumably to evoke the confusion in his obviously tortured mind, as he recounts the various losses he has suffered, the way he sees the scales of justice always balanced against him. The result is claustrophobic.
Like any tragedy this is not an easy story to watch. At times it feels like you are looking at the wreckage from a violent road accident: once you start looking at it you want to look away but can't. Anne Carson suggests in her preface to Euripedes' classical Greek tragedy, "Herakles" (a play those who are interested in Tyson should read), that watching stories of other people who are lost in their grief and rage is beneficial for us. It helps to cleanse us of our darkness. If you believe that, you owe it to yourself to seek out this film.
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Well done! I felt he was open and honest with nothing to hide.Read more