Director James Toback (2009) Interview

With the upcoming Mike Tyson documentary aptly named Tyson just around the corner, Director James Toback invited Buzzine for a brief interview. In roughly 30 minutes, Toback shared his thoughts on Tyson – the man and the movie – filmmaking and insanity. While he loves to talk, Toback doesn’t ramble. His answers are clear and thoughtful and it’s easy to see where the film gets its deliberate touch.

“The idea of the movie,” Toback begins, “was to create a kind of self-portrait. What I wanted was to get [Tyson’s] view of everything in his own words. I felt the way to get him to say the most interesting things about every subject that came up was not to ask direct questions, which would have felt weird given the nature we communicate, but rather to let the camera just keep going without cutting and wait until he said everything he could possibly say about whatever subject was at hand.

“The appeal,” he continues, “was to be confessional in the way that Catholics go to confessional, because confession is a transforming ritual. The idea is not to get a priest grilling you on the details…it’s to give you the opportunity to speak almost as if you were speaking to yourself.”

When asked about editing, Toback replies, “I didn’t have to cut anything. I had total control editorially of the movie. There were interesting things I cut because I needed to shape [the film]. Most of what I cut that I really liked will be on the DVD. That’s one of the things of editing you learn over a period of time; there’s a mysterious personality to editing. You have to have a feel for your own movie and know that things have to end now.

In Tyson, a few interesting film techniques, like split screens and overlapping dialog, are sparingly used to good effect. “I knew I wanted to do split screen, moving images and multiple voices,” Toback explains, “That I absolutely had to have. There was no way I thought I could get across the chaos of the mind without using that. It was just a question of how much to do, when to do it, when to stop it…but those were the things that made it take 12 months to edit the movie. Five days of shooting. 12 months of editing.”

Sharing his thoughts on Mike Tyson, Toback asks, “Have you ever gone insane?” After pausing for effect, he explains his eight days of insanity tripping out on LSD. “If you snap and you go over all of your behavior after that point is explicable in those terms. And with Mike, who is not a restrained person anyway…once he was out there mentally…he talks about it in the movie…he says ‘I went insane’ and ‘I am an insane individual’ those are not said lightly. Those are not said metaphorically. And as someone who experienced that, I understand what it means.”

Tyson examines the professional and personal life of one of the most inspiring and scandalous boxers to ever enter the ring. For those who don’t know who Mike Tyson is and especially for those who think they do, Tyson will reveal a brand new visage of a consummate fighter both loved and reviled by the world. Is Mike Tyson the greatest fighter in history? Did he deserve to go to jail? Is he insane? Perhaps. After watching Tyson, you’ll have a more informed opinion.

Tyson opens on Friday, April 24.