Monday, 11 November 2013

MIKE TYSON: UNDISPUTED TRUTH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Spike Lee serves up a brilliant document of boxer Mike Tyson's astounding one-man-show.

HBO Films presents Spike Lee's latest Joint, a biographical portrait of boxer "Iron Mike" Tyson via his hit one-man stage production which wends its way through the triumph and turmoil of his storied life.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth (2013) ****
Dir. Spike Lee
Starring: Mike Tyson

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Most boxers are genuinely great natural story-tellers. So many of them, it seems, spring from tough, colourful, Runyonesque mean streets of various squalid, crime-ridden urban jungles and no matter how punch-drunk they've become, no matter how many decades have passed, they all seem to remember every single detail worth recounting about their rich lives in and out of the ring.

In fact, I've personally never met a boxer who couldn't spin compelling autobiographical yarns. That said, one doesn't need to actually be sitting face-to-face with one of these grand old guys in a booth at some greasy diner to enjoy their tales of glory since there's a wealth of interview material out there with any number of pugilists.

These guys seem to have the hard-wired DNA to recount stirring narrative accounts that are as humorous as they are heartbreaking, as hiply cool as they are harrowing. Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth is a magical thing all unto itself - at least when it comes to documentary portraits of boxing and bluntly, it's impossible to imagine anyone other than the scrappy stylist Spike Lee to so perfectly capture the essence of one of the world's greatest boxing legends.

One of the aspects of Lee's film that was most apparent to me was the notion that its scope and style of presentation was not just the work of a genuine filmmaker (as opposed to the typical camera jockey that captures such events for television), but that it indeed, did not feel like a television special at all, but rather, a bonafide feature film. Like a previous HBO Film, Steven Soderbergh's astonishing Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra, my immediate response to Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth was just how much I would have loved to see the movie theatrically - in a real movie theatre, with a real audience.

With this film in particular, I was reminded of the terrific tradition in theatrical exhibition of presenting work that can collectively be typified as "concert/live performance films." Unlike classic rock concert films, however, like Gimme Shelter from the Maysles Brothers and Charlotte Zwerin or Monterey Pop by D. A. Pennebaker, Spike Lee's film is more in the tradition of stand-up style concert films like the immortal Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, Eddie Murphy Delirious, but crossed with Jonathan Demme's groundbreaking Spalding Gray monologue masterwork Swimming To Cambodia.

All of these films shared a number of elements with Lee's film. First of all, they were shot before live audiences. Secondly, the stage presentations were conceived with being captured on film. Thirdly, as theatrical feature films, they shared the unique viewing experience wherein the movie audience watched a cinematically rich approach to filming an event that included on-screen audiences responding to the material. Sitting in a huge movie theatre with hundreds of people laughing in unison with audiences reacting to the show on-screen was an experience unique to cinema and one that was so special, so indelible that watching Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth at home, on television with a very small (albeit delightful) audience that included my wife and twelve-year-old daughter made me immediately yearn to have seen this terrific movie (with said wife and child) in a real movie theatre, with real people and a larger-than-life screen.

Lee's mise-en-scene is certainly larger-than-life and this, given the subject, is as it should be and could only be. Mike Tyson was the undisputed heavyweight boxing champion of the world and the youngest man to ever win several coveted titles. Most of his fights were won by completely knocking out his opponents and usually in the first or second round. For many years, he seemed unstoppable, but a series of turbulent personal travails wreaked enough havoc upon him that he did, indeed, start to lose. During one losing bout, Tyson savagely bit off part of his opponent's ear - not once, but twice. Add to this the blight of various domestic disputes, bankruptcy and a rape conviction leading to three years in prison and Tyson has a story as huge as that of any immortal God of Ancient Greece.

Using a series of simple, but evocative lighting effects, still images, film footage and a great music track, Lee shoots Tyson as he sits and struts upon the huge stage like a lion in a cage - his very life forming the bars and the appreciative audience providing the eventual redemption within the tale he weaves. We learn about Tyson's rough childhood - a beloved mother who was a substance abuser and sometime street hooker, an abusive step-father, an irascibly flamboyant pimp as his birth father and a huge juvenile criminal record. Tyson seems thankful for these early years of crime and incarceration, as his time in juvenile detention led to a relationship with a trainer and mentor who promised Tyson that he would indeed groom the lad into becoming the youngest world boxing champ.

Tyson comes across as a plain-spoken orator - an entertainer from the streets of life and the school of hard knocks. He's pretty damn riveting and Lee clearly knows how and where to place the camera - the lens of which that truly, madly and deeply loves the ex-champ. Unfortunately, it's impossible to be completely sold on his redemption - the physically brutality he exacted upon his young wife Robin Givens is avoided in favour of exposing her "gold digging" ways and the manner in which Tyson represents his rape conviction is full of denial and mean-spiritedness towards his victim. Instead, we get a parade of all the celebrities who came to visit him in prison. (Shame on all of them!) These are big hurdles to get over and I'm not sure if most audiences will be able to do so. I suspect, however, that Lee's dazzling direction will indeed keep them watching at the very least.

Ultimately, what the film achieves is not so much myth-making since Lee knows that this ground's already been tread upon (via James Toback's excellent, though surprisingly straightforward feature doc Tyson). Instead, we get "Iron Mike" up close, personal and almost oxymoronically, bigger than life. As the camera scrutinizes the big man, there's no denying that there will be plenty of room for audiences to see what they need or want to see. Most will see a young man from a hellhole, his rise to the top and his rock-bottom crash. We'll see a man in denial and yet, this is what we'll clearly see and believe. Finally, we'll see a man, a human being - one who looks ahead to new beginnings and new challenges.

And for all the achievements and all his fame, he'll still be a thug - a thug who parlayed his gifts as a thug into becoming a much-beloved hero and celebrity - an American Icon.

Only in America. No wonder the country is collapsing.

"Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" can be seen on HBO Canada. For info, visit the website HERE.
Playdates in Canada are as follows:
Saturday Nov.16 8:01PM ET / MT
Sunday Nov.17 2:16AM ET / MT
Saturday Nov.30 11:45PM ET / MT
Sunday Dec.8 9:40AM ET / MT
Sunday Dec.8 6:30PM ET / MT

For info on U.S. dates and times, visit HERE.