On The Aisle
By Tony Macklin
Mike Tyson is thoughtful. Huh?
The documentary movie “Tyson” reveals a Mike Tyson I can almost guarantee you haven’t seen before.
Hardly anyone thinks of former boxer Tyson as articulate and sincere. But director James Toback does and he captures these qualities in a fascinating, sympathetic portrait. “Tyson” is a film of vast surprises.
Many of us know Tyson as the bull of a fighter who bit part of Evander Holyfield’s ear off, and lost a fight to Buster Douglas as more than a 40-1 favorite.
Some view Tyson as a bum whom wife Robin Givens accused of abuse in a TV interview with Barbara Walters and who was imprisoned for rape (of Miss Black America contestant Desiree Washington).
Most people have a negative image of Tyson. Toback sets out to at least qualify that and perhaps change it totally. He very well may have succeeded.
The first thing that surprised me was that Tyson is much more articulate than I thought. He uses such words as “surreal” and “erudites” (although he uses it as a noun not an adjective), “self-aggrandizing,” and “immature,” and he uses the adverb “badly” correctly. Tyson misuses “fellatio,” but nobody’s perfect.
A second surprise is Tyson’s sincerity. Although we may have a nagging suspicion that we’re not getting the full picture, Tyson’s humility and accountability seem sincere. So too do his tears for mentor and father figure Cus D’Amato.
A third surprise is that Tyson was a student of boxing. When he was a young fighter with D’Amato, night after night he watched footage of the great fighters of the past, studying their moves and strategies.
We know that Ali used psychology both in the ring and out of it, but Tyson too was well aware of how to use it. How much of it is he using on us in the movie?
Another surprise is Tyson’s sensitivity. Obviously we know he had a dark side, callous brutality was often his calling card. The film’s ugliest scene is footage of a news conference when Tyson screamed vulgar racist rages at a heckler. But the documentary shows a calmer side that heretofore basically has been hidden.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is how accountable Tyson seems. He doesn’t blame anybody else for his actions. He gives reasons, not excuses, about how immaturity, inexperience, background and his demons at times ruled his life.
Another surprise is that Tyson admits he always was afraid. Mike Tyson scared?
I didn’t realize that when he fought Holyfield, Tyson had been head-butted by the fighter. In the second fight it drew blood. Tyson looked at the referee, got no reaction, then went “totally insane at that moment.”
On occasion Tyson is contradictory. He calls promoter Don King wretched and reptilian. Then says he loved King. Which was it? Probably both. Mike Tyson is not a simple man.
Toback (“The Gambler,” 1974), who has had his own demons, is able to humanize his galvanizing subject. He also employs some great fight footage, and uses a scene of Tyson walking on the beach by the ocean as Tyson quotes from Oscar Wilde’s poem “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” It is a cheeky scene, but it works. Wilde and Tyson — an odd couple, for sure.
Has the feral, ferocious lion been domesticated? The movie gives us the lion in repose. His once-fierce growl is muted and softened.
When people are asked what famous people they would like to have a meal with, they usually say something like Jesus and Col. Sanders. After seeing this film, I’d like to spend some time with Mike Tyson.
The best thing about the movie is that it rediscovers Tyson’s humanity, which he and the media zoo had vanquished. Tyson once again is a member of the human race.
You expect a knockout, but in the movie Tyson wins on style points.