Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: January 25, 2010

Tyson (2008)


Last night Juli and I watched Tyson, a documentary on the legendary and oft reviled boxer, Mike Tyson. It was quite an illuminating experience and really helped flesh out the character of Mike Tyson in my brain. Before the film, all I really could have told you about him could easily be summed up in the following list.

  • He was a boxer.
  • He went to prison.
  • Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.
  • Don King.
  • Robin Givens.
  • Face tattoo.

Comprehensive, right?

Now, the film struck me in two distinct ways. First is that is has humanized Mike Tyson for me. Where once he was this media icon, a person I heard about on the news but about whom I knew nothing, now I feel like after hearing his nearly incomprehensible, insane rambling for 90 minutes I understand him for what he really is: a frightened man-child who was thrown into a world he had no tools for coping with where people wanted to take advantage of him because he was able to dominate guys in a boxing ring. It seems clear that this man who can barely form a coherent sentence, nearly breaks down crying when talking about his childhood in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and whose minds wanders wildly onto all sorts of tangents is ill equipped to deal with the world on any level, much less a high demand career surrounded by men trying to use him to fill their bank accounts. What Mike Tyson needed was a mentor and a hug, not managers and trainers and millions of dollars.

Of course, I’m not excusing his behavior. There is no doubt that he has done some terrible things in his life. He readily admits this, in fact, explaining his explosiveness after release from prison as being driven by the fear of never wanting to be back in that position of powerlessness again. Really, it is an extension of his childhood fears resulting from growing up in the ghetto and constantly having to fight physically and mentally not to get killed. You can see when he talks about it that he’s pretty messed up inside, confused, angry, uncertain. You can tell when his speech degenerates from his normal bumbling patterns of repeated phrases and half finished sentences to venom filled curses that he is, if nothing else, being honest about his feelings.

Tyson’s is a harrowing story of what can happen to people when the enter into a world of fame and riches without the grounding needed to cope. It’s really sad that this man who was indomitable in the ring was eventually brought down because, as a person, he was incapable of making sane, healthy decisions for himself. I know that sounds like a truism, but in Tyson’s case, it’s rather acute. The peaks of his successes and the valleys of his defeats are so much more extreme than what most people could ever dream of experiencing that his tale serves as almost like this abstract object lesson, this parable of how not to live your life.

Second, what struck me about the film was that it really doesn’t follow traditional documentary techniques. Based on Tyson’s clothes and the set ups, it’s like they had four or five days of one on one interview with the man and then used that interview SOLELY as the basis for the film. Where as other films might get interviews with people from his past, from his current life, director James Toback has used only Tyson’s words, along with a smattering or archival footage, to tell the story. It is incredibly effective. To enhance the sense that the inside of Tyson’s head is a jumbled mess, Toback overlaps sections of the interview both visually and temporally with bits of dialog coming in on top of each other and trailing off, a web of ideas and thoughts barely distinguishable from the next.

So, long story short, go see it. You have no excuse.