‘Tyson’ doc accidental genius

By David Orlikoff

A documentary about iconic and turbulent former undisputed heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson seems almost obvious. While most famous athlete’s stories are told in fiction if not live feed, Tyson has always offered up more meat than a humdrum narrative of challenge and perseverance would know what to do with. Director James Toback thinks he found the answer. In his documentary Tyson, he lets the man speak on end and give his own full account of not only his career, but his life.

Every celebrity story has a chapter titled “regrets,” and in that chapter they fit all the drugs and psychosis and delusions and downfalls. For some, this is their final chapter, but for others it’s the spice of life. The kinds of downfalls depicted on VH1 are always blamed on fame. It’s like when someone wins the lottery, on average, they report lower happiness. There’s an inevitability surrounding the conflict, which has as much to do with the fame as it does a celebrity’s humanity, and, in most cases, does little to define the person.

Tyson is distinct in his seedy underbelly. Vice is as much a part of him as his devastating right hand. From a very young age growing up in Brooklyn, he was steeped in crime. He never had a father figure until after his mother’s death, at age 16 when his trainer and manager, Constantine “Cus” D’Amato, became his legal guardian. Tyson dealt drugs, mugged people, immersed in thug life with more street credibility than most rappers dream of. Tyson also admits to being abusive toward women, though he still disputes his conviction for raping Miss Black Rhode Island 1991, which landed him in prison for three years. While inside he converted to Islam and later got tattoos of Mao and Che, not because he believed in the ideology, but because of his disdain for America.

This is all covered in the documentary, and while it elucidates more than a fictional biopic could, a man is more than mere facts. The documentary fails abhorrently to reproduce any semblance of objectivity or journalistic integrity which is so often key to distinguishing the genre. There is almost a conscious disassociation from practical documentary forms, from the so-called Ken Burns documentaries of PBS, as well as more earnest person oriented storytelling techniques. Instead, the film is comprised roughly 60 percent by Tyson sitting on his couch and musing confusingly. He makes no real attempt to tell stories, just as Toback makes no real attempt to edit. Another 30 percent is Tyson on the beach and Tyson against a black backdrop, repeating the same troublesome statements as before. The final 10 percent is archival footage of fights and a few photographs. There are no other interviews, no friends, no enemies, nothing. It is just Tyson himself, who, not surprisingly, produced the film.

There is a painful crawl to the structure of the film, which falls apart at the seams upon any inspection. Luckily, the source material is so enthralling that it is possible to lose oneself in the midst of even the most bewildering and insane of ravings.

It may be possible to gain some greater knowledge of Tyson through the process of psychoanalysis, but the conclusions gained only seem to reinforce the already dominate public opinion of the man. Tyson has nothing substantial to say about his abusive tendencies, but an audience made juxtaposition of his rape conviction with his tirades about conquering women sexually and dominating them fully yields the expected result. The only discovery Tyson facilitates in regards to its eponymous hero are the physical characteristics of his tears. And while Tyson may be our first and last chance to see the ferocious man cry, it does nothing to heighten our understanding of his psyche.

This film is not art in any traditional sense, but it does have an unwavering appeal. It is less a terrifying look into the darker side of humanity than it is a hilarious bout in insanity.

The film unwittingly serves as a supplement to years of ridicule on The Simpsons and elsewhere. It falls into the category of found art for hipsters, who celebrate untold numbers of “awful” videos dug up from the now ancient ’90s with their new home on the Internet. The shoddy filmmaking only contributes to the monstrous and impossible-to-take-seriously sexist and brutish things Tyson relates.