I remember coming back from a movie on June 28, 1997, to a friend’s apartment. He turned on the TV, and the first thing we heard was ESPN’s Charley Steiner saying that, in all his years of covering boxing, he’d never seen anything remotely like this.
I remember coming back from a movie on June 28, 1997, to a friend’s apartment. He turned on the TV, and the first thing we heard was ESPN’s Charley Steiner saying that, in all his years of covering boxing, he’d never seen anything remotely like this. We wondered what he was so frantic about — and then we saw Mike Tyson sink his teeth into Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Even now, a dozen years later, it’s one of the strangest moments in sports. If you’re curious about the mind of a guy who could do something like that, I recommend — highly recommend — “Tyson,” a new documentary from director James Toback. It’s revealing — and not always in the way its subject means it to be.
“Tyson” is nothing more than Tyson telling the story of his life while fight footage, news reports and other clips illustrate what he’s describing. Obviously, Tyson (a longtime friend of Toback) intended this documentary to tell his side of the story. And it does — you see where Tyson came from, what difficulties he faced growing up, and how much his mentor, legendary trainer Cus D’Amato, shaped his life and outlook. (Tyson sheds more than a few tears when describing his years with D’Amato.) But because Tyson isn’t a master of hiding his feelings, he can’t help but offer a peek into his unvarnished thoughts about his, ahem, colorful past. It’s not pleasant, but it is fascinating.
Tyson describes his early days of low-level crime with an obvious fondness, and does not apologize for his troubles with women, including allegations of abuse from ex-wife Robyn Givens and a rape accusation (and conviction and prison term) from Miss Black America contestant Desiree Washington. “Tyson” shows a clip of Tyson clowning with Washington during a dance rehearsal then cuts to footage of his perp walk and courtroom sketches of the rape trial. As soon as he opens his mouth to discuss the matter, you know no apology is coming: “When I was falsely accused of raping that wretched swine of a woman ...” he begins, before concluding “I might have took advantage of women before, but I never took advantage of her.”
And as for that notorious ear-biting incident? Tyson says he felt “groggy” after repeated head butts from Holyfield, then became “ferocious” in the third round: “I get so mad I want to kill him. I fight again. At the moment, I’m enraged. I lose all composure and discipline. I fight and fight and fight and I want to choke him. I bit him. … I wanted to kill this guy.”
Clearly, he’s still upset about the matter. But not, apparently, regretful: “I was depressed with myself, not because I bit him,” he explains, “but just because I lost my discipline and composure.”
At the end of the film, Tyson sums up his post-fight life sincerely, if a bit strangely: “And along the way, I became a very proud father of six kids, and that was the best moment of my life.” He looks thicker, sadder and maybe a bit beaten down by life (though the film was finished before his 4-year-old daughter’s accidental death in May). He describes with astonishment how his children are “jet setters” when, as a kid, he “never left the street corner,” but he doesn’t seem to realize that years of beating men senseless in the ring is why his kids can afford those trips.
The film ends with a slow, silent zoom in on Tyson’s face, followed by a fade out. It’s a powerful documentary, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about Mike Tyson. The question is, has he?
Will Pfeifer writes about new DVDs on Tuesdays and older ones on Fridays. Contact him at email@example.com or 815-987-1244. Read his blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movie man/.
New DVDs out this week
“Billy Jack Collection”
“Life: Season Two”
“Sgt. Pepper Live”
Queen Latifah, “Persona”
Jet, “Shaka Rock”
Arctic Monkeys, “Humbug”
Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com