James Toback and Mike Tyson are friends, so how is it possible for the bad boy filmmaker to produce an objective nonfiction profile about the iconic boxer? That's the question -- and it's a valid one -- being asked about Toback's Tyson, opening in theaters on April 24, 2009.
The answer is, quite simply, that the film isn't objective, nor was it intended to be.
It's all about Mike Tyson, his life and times -- exclusively from Tyson's point of view.
"I sat Mike in a comfortable chair, in a comfortable environment, in front of a camera, and let him speak. I always sat behind him, out of view. I let him talk without interruption, and left the camera rolling during his silences. It was a psychoanalytic approach -- like he was on a psychoanalyst's couch. That could only happen because he was comfortable, because we're friends, and because I've been through psychoanalysis and understand the process," Toback told me in a recent interview.
Toback uses archival footage, often in a fascinating split screen format, to balance the up close and personal with Tyson, but was the filmmaker's real mission to vindicate his infamously difficult pal?
"No, not at all. He's been extraordinary places in his extraordinary life, and I wanted to hear what he had to say about all of it," said Toback. "Ever since we met in 1985, Mike and I have spoken candidly with each other, discussing things that matter -- death, sex, the cosmos -- without superficial crap. We're on the same page. For us, taking about death is like talking about breakfast. How was your bacon? it was okay, but I'd prefer it a little crisper next time. Right to the point. That's the spirit of this movie. Besides, Mike doesn't need vindication or defending. He's a champion. That's the story."
Toback's approach to Tyson pulls no punches. It is extraordinarily revealing. His psychoanalytic interview style accomplishes an in-your-face feel the same way Errol Morris' masterful use of his Interrotron camera does. Tyson is a film to be seen for both its subject and its style.
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(PHOTO: Mike Tyson in 'Tyson,' courtesy Sony Pictures Classics).