Is Tyson’s “fade into bolivian” finally happening?
I have no belief
But I believe I’m a walking contradiction
And I ain’t got no right
The above quote is from the band Green Day, but couldn’t it just as easily be something Mike Tyson uttered? It’s confusing and contradictory (it is from the song “Walking Contradiction,” after all), it has a hint of self-loathing, and it’s ultimately a rambling run-on sentence where the last thought doesn’t entirely fit with what preceded it.
When Tyson opens his mouth, those are the sort of things that spew out. And they fill you with mixed emotions: Do I laugh or cry? Do I believe him or dismiss him?
And eventually, those questions are replaced by these ones: Do I still care? Does anyone?
The documentary film Tyson forces us to ponder these issues. Whether it’s a good or bad movie is almost besides the point; what’s most interesting about it is that it expands upon the “walking contradiction” nature of Tyson’s existence, and it leads us to wonder whether, as a fat, 42-year-old ex-fighter, Tyson still intrigues us.
Based upon the reaction in the theater in which I viewed the film, and the overall box-office numbers during Tyson’s gradual release, I’m leaning toward the conclusion that he does not.
I watched the movie in downtown Philadelphia last Thursday night, less than a week after Tyson premiered in that city, and the theater was virtually empty. There were a total of seven customers there when the movie began, and only four when it ended. That’s right, three of them got up and walked out mid-movie (two of them in the first 10 minutes). By the next day, the theater was only showing Tyson as a matinee and using the screen for more potentially profitable purposes during prime-time hours.
On its opening weekend of April 24-26, the movie was only in 11 theaters, all in New York and Los Angeles, and raked in a respectable $85,046. The following weekend, in 13 theaters, it slipped to $74,835. On the weekend of May 8-10, open to more markets, Tyson made one-third as much per screen as it had two weeks earlier, taking in $92,804 across 35 theaters.
In total, as of May 14, the day I saw the film, it had made $388,790 domestically. Little is expected of documentaries, so you can’t call that a total flop. But it’s a long way from a hit. When We Were Kings, the 1996 documentary about the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman fight, made nearly $2.8-million in the U.S. The 1999 pro wrestling documentary Beyond The Mat did $2.05-million worth of business. Even a documentary from the year 2000 about Tammy Faye Bakker broke the $1-million mark. The name “Mike Tyson” once was a sure thing. But apparently it isn’t anymore.
Some anticipated the release of Tyson, which was extremely well-received at Sundance, as the beginning of the Mike Tyson comeback. But instead, Tyson seems to be announcing that there will be no more comebacks.
Still, it must be asked, what other athlete from the last 20 years could captivate anyone for 90 minutes in the way this documentary does? It’s just a career retrospective, accompanied by a single sound-bite source, Tyson himself. It’s an incredibly simplistic (or perhaps lazy) approach to filmmaking, but aside from a dull opening 10 minutes, it keeps your attention. As great an athlete as he was, could Michael Jordan keep up a one-man show like that for an hour and a half? Could Tiger Woods? Could Dennis Rodman? Could Barry Bonds? They all have interesting stories to tell, but none had a career as tumultuous as Tyson’s, and none are as gripping when analyzing themselves as Tyson.
On the other hand, if a Jordan documentary came out this year, it would do better at the box office. Same with Tiger. Tyson used to put the asses in the seats on name recognition and sideshow appeal alone, but his reach has dropped off greatly.
In its own way, the whole idea of this movie is a giant contradiction: It’s extraordinarily honest, in the sense that Tyson speaks so candidly about himself and his mistakes, but it’s also extraordinarily dishonest, in the sense that everything is presented from a singular viewpoint.
There are few revelations in Tyson for those who followed his career, but for the uninitiated, it presents a comprehensive overview of all of the moments that mattered. Unfortunately, the uninitiated will be left unaware of how others viewed Tyson; they’re told the story on Tyson’s terms, in Tyson’s terms.
As expected, the movie is packed with classic Tyson abuse of the English language. Under Cus D’Amato’s guidance, rather than saying he developed discipline, Tyson explains, “I turned into a disciplinarian.” He misuses the word “fellatio,” saying he performed it on a woman. He coins the terms “satisfication.”
Of course, Tyson also produces plenty of sound bites that don’t involving butchering the language. He memorably calls Don King, “a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherf—er.” About his financial instability, he explains, “I either have a lot of money, or I have none. I can’t live in the middle.” At the movie’s conclusion, he admits, “I never had any idea I would live to be 40 years old, it’s a miracle.”
On ESPN Radio recently, Tyson gave his take on being in the spotlight: “Everyone has a small bit of ego and pride,” he said. “You know what I miss more so than missing the money and the life? I miss showing people what I can do. Showing people that I’m the best that god ever created. I miss showing them that in my prime, there is no one that has ever lived that can beat me, and telling them that. That’s what I miss.”
Again, it’s a contradiction, because in the movie, Tyson said that at the end of his career, all of his tough talk, such as the infamous “I wanna eat your children” comment, was an act meant to sell fights. Yet here he is talking tough again, claiming he was the best heavyweight who ever entered the ring.
Tyson is not trying to sell pay-per-views anymore, but he does have a movie to sell, and he remains a man whose comments capture your attention but leave you unsure of whether they represent his true thoughts.
Tyson tried throughout his career to manipulate his image, and now the movie Tyson is doing the same thing. The difference is, back in the day, those manipulations mattered because Tyson mattered.
The documentary relives the career of one of the greatest curiosities the sports world has ever known. But you’re only a curiosity if people are still curious, and in that department, Tyson, at long last, seems to be lacking.
┬À On another Tyson-on-the-big-screen note, I have to say, The Hangover looks like it has potential (even if the plot is lifted directly from Very Bad Things). Who knows, maybe if the movie is a smash hit, this Tyson comeback will happen after all.
┬À Saturday night’s ShoBox broadcast opened with lightweight contender John Molina, but by the end of the evening, it was former 130-pound titlist John-John Molina who was on my mind. Andre Ward’s win in the main event against Edison Miranda reminded me somewhat of Oscar De La Hoya’s 1995 win over John-John, in that Ward was taking a significant step up, got a taste of rough tactics and adversity, and came out with a win that will help him grow into a top-flight fighter. Two differences: Ward won far more decisively than De La Hoya did, and De La Hoya stepped up to the challenge far earlier in his career (27 months as a pro vs. 53 months for Ward).
┬À A whole-hearted congratulations to Juan Diaz on graduating from the University of Houston-Downtown last week. It’s hard enough to finish college without the distraction of fighting for hundreds of thousands of dollars on HBO and battling for recognition as the best 135-pound boxer in the world. Accomplishing so much in the ring and in the classroom simultaneously is no small feat.
┬À Good for heavyweights Kevin Johnson and Devin Vargas for risking their unbeaten records and accepting a fight with each other on short notice. Even though Vargas lost, he took a chance and I’m no less interested in watching his next fight. And obviously my interest in Johnson has increased, though I’d like to see him come up with a better brainstorm than mismatched shoes the next time someone dares him to do something crazy.
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]