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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

TYSON

By: D.E.Levine

Producers: James Toback, Damon Bingham
Executive Producers: Mike Tyson, Harlan Werner, Nicholas Jarecki, Henry Jarecki, Bob Yari
Co-Producers: Warren Farnes, Saleem Remi, Nas
With: Mike Tyson
Music: Salaam Remi
Song: Legendary by Nas
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Category: Documentary

Mike Tyson speaks eloquently, without inhibition in this documentary composed of news clips, photographys, archival footage, and original interviews. The film gives insight into a complex human being, an international athletic icon who has had a rollercoaster ride in the world of fame and fortune.

Almost a modern day version of a Greek tragedy, Tyson is depicted as a man destroyed by his own hubris. However, as a fully rounded human being emerges, the film raises many questions about whether Tyson has been misunderstood due to bad press and youthful naivete.

Producer James Toback developed a friendship with the fighter when he appeared in the producer's 1999 film "Black and White." It's clear from this film that there's a deep connection between the producer and the fighter or he could never have gotten Tyson to open up this way.

Many have referred to Tyson as an animal, but his honest discussion of his youth where he was bullied, robbed and humiliated as a skinny child with glasses in Brooklyn, portrays him as a person of interest and empathy. Too scared to fight when he was picked on, Tyson admits that now, in his forties, he's "afraid of being that way again." Introduced to boxing while in juvee at age 12, he learned to defend himself and developed self-confidence and a related cockiness.

When legendary trainer Cus D'Amato took him under his wing, the boy had a surrogate father figure that was missing from his earlier youth. Tyson gives full credit to D'Amato for sculpting him into a fighter from a raw youth with strapping physique, which is validated by some home video footage from the early 1980's.

Above all he credits D'Amato with teaching him how to overcome his personal fears and psychologically dominate his opponents when he stepped into the ring.

Tyson was heartbroken when D'Amato died in 1985 when Tyson was only 20, and visually and audibly chokes up on film when discussing their relationship and what D'Amato meant to him in his youth and throughout his life.

A year after D'Amato's death Tyson fought Trevor Berbick and became, at age 20, the youngest man to ever win the heavyweight championship.

Tyson is brutally honest about his own immaturity in his youth, his inflated ego that made him believe he could dominate anyone he fought, and his naivete about women. Women proved to be his great weakness. When D'Amato was alive Tyson was on the fighter's regime of abstaining from sex prior to fights. After D'Amato died, with little guidance, Tyson changed completely.

Without D'Amato, and with what he describes as bad advice and supervisions by people who took advantage of his youth, Tyson admits he had gonorrhea when he fought Berbick. Added to that, he attributes his 1990s loss to Buster Douglas to his excessive womanizing in Japan combined with inadequate training.

He's frank about his eight-month marriage to actress Robin Givens commenting that "We were just kids" but still wonders why he sat mutely by without defending himself as she maligned him during a television interview with Barbara Walters. Never trained for personal appearances, Tyson claims that even now he has no idea what he should have done or how he could have done it at the time.

While open about the disastrous effects that his skills with women and detrimental public relations had on his career, Tyson adamantly denies the rape of Desiree Washington for which he was sent to prison. Still bitter against his accuser, he steadfastly denies that it ever took place. He speaks of how the incident taught him never to trust anyone, and how prison, where he became a Muslim, changed him.

Tyson also speaks about the "blackouts" that he experienced at times when he exhibited his most outrageous behavior, both in and out of the ring. This discussion raises again the possibility of brain damage as opposed to simply excuses for irresponsibility.

Describing promoter Don King as a man who would "kill his mother for a dollar" and subsequent bad press and PR about his bouts with Evander Holyfield, Tyson describes very frankly, his loss of heart regarding boxing and how he was finally taking some bouts simply to pay the bills because he was so far in debt.

He speaks warmly about his six children and how they have become the focus of his current life, and even talks with fondness about his ex-wives and his desire and efforts to remain in touch with them.

We may never know the complete truth about Mike Tyson, but Toback succeeds in producing a film that raises many questions regarding the persona we think is Tyson.