Iron Mike, up close at the Circle Cinema
A heavyweight champion makes it big on the silver screen.
Back in 1986, Mike Tyson, at 20, was the youngest fighter ever to win professional boxing’s heavyweight title. “Speed kills,” his beloved trainer, Cus D’Amato — a blunt-yet-charming old-timer, straight out of Central Casting — would repeatedly tell him.
Tyson had that speed. He was also “Iron Mike,” after all. He pulverized opponents.
The documentary film “Tyson,” opening at Circle Cinema July 10, presents the boxer’s story (thus far, anyway) in his own words. It’s a story many of us, basically, already know. But the film is still engrossing.
Tyson’s long, ugly fall from his prime — the tabloid-ready pitfalls of his marriage to actress Robin Givens, the three years he did in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting a beauty pageant contestant, the way he’d rant like a madman at press conferences or else bite (like a mad dog) his pugilistic foes — all of this will be remembered, and perhaps grimaced at, by not just sports fans but also anyone who followed current events during the previous decade.
Such events are covered in “Tyson” by way of TV-clip flashbacks, as are the many glorious moments this former champion had in the ring, but most of the movie finds a reflective, verbose, comfortably seated Mike Tyson — usually filmed at extreme close-up — relating his life’s journey firsthand. He speaks candidly throughout: angry or calm, bitter or insightful, pathetic or triumphant.
Above all, Tyson comes across as a man driven by fear and defined by violence. Severe violence. From his childhood as a street thug in Brooklyn, N.Y., to his retirement from the ring after a failed comeback attempt, the title character of “Tyson” is one whose only available path in life seems to have been that of aggression and suspicion. (There’s also the aspect of how, by his own admission, Tyson lost his mind while in prison. Did he get it back? You decide.)
Often, “Tyson” employs a split-screen technique, where two, three or four different images appear within the film’s frame simultaneously, each with its own action and soundtrack. The effect can be poetic or confusing, but it’s always exciting — and is surely meant to mirror the kinetic, rapid-fire energy of boxing itself. This is a well-made film about an unlikable hero.
Pain is a major theme here, so the film is sometimes painful to witness. But it’s worth witnessing.
More Film Events This Month
The open-air cinema that is Philbrook
For the first four Fridays of the month, the bucolic Summer Film Series returns to Philbrook. Gates open at 7:30 p.m.; films begin at dusk. They’re shown on the lawn north of the lower Water Garden, and the admittance fee runs $5 for museum members or $7 for nonmembers. Bring friends, picnic baskets, etc. As Ralph Bendel, senior horticulturist for the museum’s gardens and film series curator for Philbrook, told me: “It’s a program (concept) that actually dates back to the 1940s.” Here’s the 2009 schedule (and how nice to see the late, great Paul Newman getting plenty of play this year):
July 3: “Forrest Gump” (1994)
July 10: “Cool Hand Luke” (1967)
July 17: “The Sting” (1973)
July 24: “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977)
Pajamas, popcorn and you
Also at the Circle, a whole new Tulsa movie-going tradition might well originate July 18, when that cinema’s first-ever Slumber Party occurs. Attention, film fanatics: It’s movies all night long. Starting at 10 p.m., the Circle will screen five feature-length films in succession (with short breaks in between), with the festivities concluding at 8 or 9 a.m. the following morning.
Joshua Peck, the Circle Cinema staffer who brought this shindig to the theater, explains: “It’s $20 to get in, and if you stay for all five films, you’ll get $10 back. It’s all subgenre stuff — exploitation films, midnight movies.” The rundown is “Return of the Living Dead” (1985), “The Burning” (1981), “Night Warning” (1983) and two “surprise films” that will remain unannounced until the curtain goes up.
“The secret ones,” Peck continues, “are both drive-in, cult-film things from the ’70s. One is a rarely seen Japanese film with subtitles, and the other is just out there. Really trippy.”
Given the off-the-wall dimensions of this film fest, I asked Peck what sort of crowd he expects. He says the Circle’s monthly Midnight Movies are routinely well attended, and that those numbers bode well for this event.
He adds: “But I don’t know what to expect here, actually. It’s new. If a bunch of people come out, maybe we’ll all go out for breakfast afterwards.”