Plumb Lines

April 28, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 2:36 pm


Imagine seeing an actress on TV who you think is attractive, calling a friend who you are sure can arrange a meeting, and then sitting down with her to dinner. Months later, imagine that she has become your wife and you are sitting next to her in bed while the late-night news reports on your public spat from earlier that evening. Then imagine sitting next to her in stunned silence as she tells Barbara Walters, and millions of television viewers, how you are an abusive, manic monster who has dragged her into hell.

This is the world that we see in Tyson, a newly released documentary. Mike Tyson is one of our strangest celebrities. He has an unusual talent for lurid, latinate quips. For Tyson, the f-word is “fornicate.” Listening to him is proof that colorful, vulgar speech need not rely on the old four-letter Anglo-Saxon chestnuts.

At times, Tyson seems to be the American double of Franz Biberkopf, the childlike, brutish anti-hero of Berlin Alexanderplatz. The boxer’s life, his many crimes and few redemptions, have been marked by wounded, violent tenderness. At one point in the film Tyson cries over the death of his first coach, Cuz D’Amato. We see the softness of a man who, as a child, nearly killed a garbage man who tried to throw out his bird cage:

One morning I woke up and found my favorite pigeon, Julius, had died. I was devastated and was gonna use his crate as my stickball bat to honor him. I left the crate on my stoop and went in to get something and I returned to see the sanitation man put the crate into the crusher. I rushed him and caught him flush on the temple with a titanic right hand. He was out cold, convulsing on the floor like a infantile retard.

Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist who has inflicted immense, seemingly unforgivable suffering on almost everyone he’s known. What Tyson allows us to do is step back from judging a man whose crimes have been weighed and numbered. By avoiding Law and Order-style moral sensationalism, the documentary reveals a man whose voice is surprisingly analytical and measured. Go see this film.

-Matthew Schmitz


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