Of Tyson Men

Tyson—a 90-minute documentary about Mike Tyson—is not at all what you'd expect from a first-person sports narrative (it's really just one long interview with the boxer, supplemented with old photos and fight footage). There's no grandstanding or blowhard pomposity or hollow equivocation about why the champ eventually fell. It just is what it is: a sad, guileless, freakishly candid story told by a gigantic child who could kill you with his hands. IT IS AMAZING.

In his infantile lisp, Tyson begins with his childhood—essentially parentless—in Brooklyn, where he's mercilessly bullied (one kid pops the head off of Tyson's pet pigeon in front of his eyes). He gets into trouble; gets out of trouble; meets his mentor and trainer, Cus D'Amato; and becomes a heavyweight champion by age 20. The footage of a seemingly invincible young Tyson is mind-blowing—like, let's just go ahead and cancel boxing forever, because Mike Tyson has defeated all of boxing. When Mike Tyson punches you, you have no choice but to fall down. Mike Tyson wins.

But what's really fascinating about the film is the wide-open door into Tyson's emotional life—every word unabashedly damning and tragically childlike. He's terrified of the world, he says. He weeps openly while talking about D'Amato (his reaction to D'Amato's death: "I don't have my friend no more"). He describes a burning sensation during his heavyweight championship bout: "Musta been a prostitute I had sex with, because I had contracted gonorrhea. Either a prostitute or a very filthy young lady." He's devastated by his rape conviction, for crazily misguided reasons: "I may have tooken advantage of women before, but I never took advantage of her."

And, of course, Tyson says and does insane, frightening, horrific things, like bite off a chunk of Evander Holyfield's ear, live in front of millions of people (one of the most amazing things to ever happen in pop culture EVER). But his life, reframed as it is in Tyson, becomes bizarrely sympathetic—a full-on Of Mice and Men situation (he just hugged Robin Givens too hard!). Tyson is not a fully functioning adult; he's a bewildered, mentally ill drug addict with no impulse control who got punched in the head every day for 20 years. What makes the film work is that he admits it all without self-pity and asks for no forgiveness. "I'm sorry I let everybody down" has to be the saddest sentence in the English language. recommended

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Comments (7) RSS

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Mike Tyson has always reminded me--particularly his voice--of my senile, racist, balding, morbidly obese grandmother.
Posted by William D. Brattain on May 20, 2009 at 4:47 PM · Report this
Grist 2
@1: Did your grandmother beat the shit of dudes for a living?
Posted by Grist on May 21, 2009 at 12:44 AM · Report this
No, but she used to squint her eyes shut and wave knives at people yelling, "I can't see, I can't see!" At the ripe old age of 8, that was scarier than the prospect of having an ear bitten off.
Posted by William D. Brattain on May 21, 2009 at 10:01 AM · Report this
That is a really well-written column. Thank you, Lindy!
Posted by Paul West on May 21, 2009 at 10:49 AM · Report this
I saw this film yesterday in the Guild 45th's large theater. Five people were there. I'm not sure why, because it is a striking look at a uniquely tragic modern American figure. Go see it Seattle!
Posted by DOUG. on May 21, 2009 at 12:22 PM · Report this
Your review really makes me want to see this film, Lindy. Thanks!
Posted by Gloria on May 21, 2009 at 3:23 PM · Report this
elenchos 7
I'm sorry I let everybody down.

Also. Obviously.
Posted by elenchos on May 24, 2009 at 9:23 PM · Report this

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