|'unlike so many documentaries and documentary makers, Toback is not afraid to present his subject to you, the audience, and let you make your own judgements'|
Just over halfway through Tyson there is a piece of archive footage from a weigh-in at one of his fights. It is his first one after having been released from jail for the rape of Desiree Washington. There is the usual posturing and posing as his entourage surround him and the venues' staff members. From the back, off camera, there is a commotion. Someone yells, 'Put him in a straight-jacket!'. What happens next sums up Mike Tyson. Turning towards where his heckler assumedly is, Tyson launches a volley of extreme verbal abuse, rolling off expletives like right hook, left hook combinations. At first his entourage look on approvingly. But as Mike continues his voice starts to become hoarse, his closest advisor begins to suggest that maybe he should stop, he is visibly staggering, shaken by a sucker punch he wasn't anticipating. By the end of his tirade he is obviously close to tears.
With Mike Tyson there is always a palpable tension. It is one of those little coincidences that he is currently here in the UK, engaging in 'Dinner' tours where he has promised question and answers sessions from the audience. In the first interview of the tour, with Sky News' Dermot Murnaghan, Tyson responded to a question about his perceived new mellowness by saying, 'I guess I did change because I’m not assailing you, but you’re irritating me right now.' The tension that follows Tyson is not just the outer one he shows, the one where he might snap at any moment and flick Murnaghan out of the room like an inconvenient fly, it is an inner tension within Mike himself, a tension between multiple lives and personalities.
Tyson admits this during the film. In a brave move, director James Toback allows Tyson to be his own narrator and much more. Excluding the archive footage, his is the only voice we hear as he gives his own opinions on his life. As such some of these are highly coloured, perhaps sometimes even fictional, occasionally just plain wrong. In this capacity he is not just his own narrator, sometimes he is his own judge, jury and executioner as well as his own teacher, mentally awarding himself a star for merit or achievement. I believed him in all sincerity however, when he described his difficulty in adapting from life in inner-city New York to moving in with mentor and trainer Cus D'Amato in his suburban, fourteen bedroom, family home. This was surely the start of the Tyson Tension.
Tyson (the film) offers no answers whatsoever to the conundrum of Mike Tyson. It simply presents him as is. He is an absolutely awe-inspiring sportsman yes but he's also a convicted criminal and rapist. He's soft and articulately spoken with a genuine tenderness for some subjects but he is also generally un-remorseful for some of his worst crimes and can turn his intellect inside out to spout off heinous insults against those in his live he has fallen out with.
Such an approach lays Toback open to criticism. How can he let such a person have free reign over the camera and microphone? How can he not present a documentary which passes judgement over Tyson? Has he not missed a golden opportunity? Those that level this sort of criticism are missing the point. Tyson does all of the above and more because, unlike so many documentaries and documentary makers, Toback is not afraid to present his subject to you, the audience, and let you make your own judgements, uncoloured by his. Yes it helps that Tyson is so fluent and controversial but that is surely even more kudos to Toback for recognising him as a worthy subject.
The film captures the Tyson Tension on celluloid, in his own apartment, laid bare. And for that reason alone it is most certainly, a success.