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MSPIFF: Toback on Tyson

Posted at 2:52 PM on April 29, 2009 by Euan Kerr

James Toback says Mike Tyson is one of the most complex and fascinating people he has ever met.

"He's also one of probably the five or 10 most recognized people on the planet," he says. "So he is has the special virtue of illustrating my favorite Andre Gide phrase, 'Don't understand me too quickly.'"

Toback is the director of "Tyson" the new documentary about the controversial former World Heavyweight boxer. Toback, who introduced the film at the MSPIFF last night, has known the fighter for more than two decades.

He describes the film as an autobiography by Tyson seen through his (Toback's) eyes as a film maker.

The film is primarily footage of Tyson talking about his life, shot while he was in rehab. Toback intercuts the monologue with archive footage of Tyson's fights, and the news coverage of his career.

It's a dramatic film, which shows Iron Mike recounting his high points and his low points. We see Tyson as he demolishes opponents in the ring, and we see Tyson raging at heckler making threats which are horrifying, demeaning, and monstrous.

We also see the rape case, and the ear-biting, both incidents where Toback says Tyson was the wronged party. It's a tough case to make, but Toback and Tyson give it a shot.

Toback says he hopes the doc will change the world's view of Mike Tyson.

"I think this film has the ability to redefine Mike Tyson," Toback says.

Certainly it gives a comprehensive portrait of a controversial figure from that individual's point of view, and it may well change minds.

"He is actually a very sensitive and smart guy, who is a good friend to the few people he really cares about," Toback says. "His psychotic outbursts I see more of a result or a reaction to his own vulnerability and his incapacity to function well under adversity."

The film has been getting rave reviews, but it's also likely to make some people uncomfortable. It opens in the theaters soon, so the public will be able to vote with its feet.

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