When I told friends I wanted to watch the Mike Tyson documentary, Tyson, they were all like, "Why??" Not so when I watched Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. They were like, "You haven't seen it yet?" In retrospect, I don't know why. If I hear a doc is good, then I want to see it and don't care much what it's about. Someone was passionate enough about his/her subject to create new art examining it. Pending who you talked to, both Tyson and Thompson were monsters, but more folks would go to bat for Thompson because of his written word. In other words, Thompson became famous for his intellect (respectable), and Tyson gained fame for knocking people unconscious (barbarism).
I wanted to know what drove this Tyson dude to knock so many other dudes unconscious. And luckily, the man told me himself. James Toback's entire 90 minute documentary is an interview with Mike Tyson, cut with clips from his life and career. Tyson's voice? Still hilarious, but less high-pitched and shrill, and he's 40 yrs old now. With a tattoo on his face. Which...
You know that tat wrapped around his eye? Kinda bad ass and tribal and what not? Appropriate for a dude known for knocking dudes unconscious? Guess what he originally wanted tattooed on his face. If you guessed hearts, you are correct. Swear to god, straight from the man's mouth. Best part of the documentary.
(His tattoo artist talked him out of it.)
Anyhow, the man turned 40. According to Tyson, he never thought he'd live this long, and he'd lived his life accordingly. Trained by a man named Cus D'Amato, who saw excellence coming from Tyson, he learned discipline and controlled himself and had a stand-in father figure that loved him. In an interview with the two in the 80s, D'Amato said that Mike was the reason he was still alive, training him and watching him grow into the best fighter in the world. Mike was a son to him, and he left his son and the world behind before he trained Mike how to be a man without him. A 40 yr old Tyson, no longer a child, cried, reminiscing on the only good influence his life ever had.
We know the rest of Mike's story: fights, more fights, arrests, rape charges, Evander Holyfield's ear... He denied the rape charges for which he was imprisoned but admitted to forcing sex in circumstances for which he'd never been charged. And I didn't know he bit Holyfield's ear twice, the bout continuing after bite #1!
Tyson, now humbled by four decades of life, admitted his fear and distrust of everyone who was not Cus D'Amato. Every last motivation of Tyson's was inspired by fear. I'm sure Tyson lied about plenty of things in this doc, afraid of what image could be portrayed of him this time, but he did not lie about his fear. He can't hide it anymore, and his drive to beat people up has left him. He said he'd never box again after losing to Kevin McBride in 2005.
I never got into boxing, but I knew Mike Tyson ruled enough to get his own bad ass video game, Mike Tyson's Punch Out for Nintendo, but that was it. Watching Mike fight in these clips really was inspiring. I've seen lots of dudes slug it out since Mike's heyday (big MMA fan), but I've never seen anyone punch like Mike during his prime. He was fast. I understood why the man had ever been considered special, and why his life of tragedy shouldn't be forgotten, but mourned. I'm not saying I like the guy, and I don't care to defend his crazy actions, but what if he continued to channel his rage into sport? How long before he would've been stopped?
Without Cus D'Amato, he couldn't help himself. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Mike Tyson went insane. Perhaps the same could be said for Hunter S. Thompson, the inventor of gonzo-journalism.
In director Alex Gibney's Gonzo, Hunter's funeral montage was, dare I say, perfect. We've all got a friend who wanted Tenacious D playing live at his funeral, or fireworks, or a coffin shot out of a canon, or something asinine. (Maybe I should contract Rivers Cuomo to have tomatoes thrown at him while playing a solo set of Weezer's Make Believe album at my funeral, and then end the set, covered with and bruised by tomatoes, with "Butterfly" from Pinkerton.) Anyway, sure enough, Hunter dreamed up a fantastical funeral of his own, explaining it all on camera as a younger man, and we watched it unfold - for real - as he explained it. No one less than Hunter Thompson would go to these lengths to have such an asinine funeral actually feel poignant, like nothing less could have possibly sufficed. Nothing would have.
Never brushing over Hunter's lunacy, Gibney's Gonzo reminded us the importance of that which we often care to ignore or discount. If a man's crazy, then he's crazy and who cares if anything brilliant resulted from his 'crazy' mind? Hunter's wives, past and final, knew about his suicidal fantasies. He took his life in his home in the comforting presence of his family having dinner in another room. Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his last book, A Man Without A Country, that too often, we don't stop and appreciate how nice things are sometimes. When things are nice, he challenged his readers to step back and say, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is." After watching Gonzo, I blamed Hunter less for his suicide. Why not leave this Earth feeling nice, at peace (which he was)? Unfortunately, that's not to say it wasn't selfish. And that's to say that America needs the insight of his 'craziness,' filtered through his written word, more today than ever.
#136: My So-Called Life
6 years ago