With his appearance Saturday night in Park City, documentary subject Mike Tyson became the first ear-biting, convicted-rapist ex-heavyweight champion to receive a standing ovation at the Sundance Film Festival.
"I'm just pretty humbled to be here," said Tyson, resplendent in a tuxedo that may have also been the first of its kind ever at a festival Q&A. "I hope you guys liked the documentary. I'm in the boondocks with this. I had no idea it would come to this degree of success or anything; I was anticipating probably this would be hot on the corner of 125th Street, but I had no idea such an amalgamation of people would just rally together here to support me. I can't express my appreciation and gratitude for this moment."
Humility is the bedrock of James Toback's extraordinary Tyson, into which are planted milestones of humor, psychosis, pathos, self-abasement, excess and fear as Tyson recounts his life in his own words. And we mean that about as literally as we can: Tyson is all Tyson, whose fighting skills have migrated to a sustained flurry of raconteurial jabs mixed with stock-footage body blows. Though Toback proves Tyson's candor isn't anything new, his introspection does possess a shocking sincerity; even when spitting venom at rape accuser Desiree Washington ("that despicable, wretched woman") or his ex-promoter and "reptilian motherfucker" Don King, Tyson matter-of-factly describes his weakness for each and the devastating consequences of those weaknesses. Ultimately a middle-class ex-athlete riven with pride and humiliation at age 42, he has all the answers and none of them.
"I have trust issues, as I'm sure everybody in this room has a degree of trust issues," said Tyson, who earlier had invoked his ex-addict status as grounds for fearing Tyson's success. "I just work real hard on being humble, because if I dwell on what I've accomplished in the past and who that guy was and what kind of person I was, I would start using again, because I'm a..."
Here, Tyson paused a second to pluck the best, least self-effacing word in his vocabulary. "Megalomaniac if I don't put my ego in check. I will go down."
And to the extent he trusted Toback, whom he's known since before his ascent to the heavyweight championship in 1986, Tyson said he also finds the film excruciating viewing. "You become very vulnerable," he told the crowd. "That was a scary guy on film. After 25 years, I realized what I projected to the world. I never understood why people looked at me and made those judgmental opinions about me as to why that might be. That's who I wanted to be — I wanted to be the champion, the arrogant champion, sitting on the throne and just ruling everything. It was just my make-up." And now he's a Sundance darling. Way to reinvent, champ.