1966 was a big year for maverick film director, James Toback. The son of wealthy Wall Street investor-father, and a mother who was the head of “The Women’s League Of Voters,” he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard, where he would quickly pick up his first writing assignment, doing a piece for Esquire on Cleveland Browns running back and fellow iconoclast, Jim Brown. He would later team with Brown and help pen Brown’s autobiography. With a 0 degree Sag Sun, Toback would always be drawn to sports as a love and future subject matter. Aquarian, Jim Brown was a perfect point of departure to launch a career for Toback that would eventually take him into cinema as a writer/producer/director with a reputation as an outsider, a risk taker, here’s that term again, “maverick” tackling unique subject matter and themes in documentaries like the big, sprawling, all star confessional, “The Big Bang” which featured people from all walks of life ruminating on life, sex, death, fame, failure, love and fear. It featured the likes of jazz pianist, Cecil Taylor, boxer Jose Torres, the late film producer, Don Simpson and flamboyant hoopster, Daryl Dawkins.
He also directed the extremely ambitious, “Mindwalk” with Sam Waterston, John Heard and Liv Ullman, who portrayed a politician, poet and scientist in that order. The three of them spend the majority of the film riffing on theories inspired by the physicist, Fritjoff Capra, with the luscious backdrop of Mont. Saint Michel as the silent partner in their often fascinating trialog.
James Toback also wrote and directed on of my favorite films of all time; “Fingers” starring a young, Harvey Keitel as a psychotic, classical pianist, who was also a the son of a loan shark. One of his father’s debtors, a well connected mob figure owed his dad some money and Keitel’s character was pressed into service to collect for his dad. The stark contrast between the painful sensitivity and brutish violence that Keitel’s character could channel would also be on display in another figure that would loom large and become an important figure in Toback’s own life. Unbeknownst to Toback, way back in 1966, was the year that Mike Tyson came into this world. “Iron Mike” is the star of his new, riveting, documentary on the life and times of Mike Tyson, simply titled “Tyson.”
Toback has known Mike Tyson since Tyson was just 19 and getting ready to take the boxing world by storm. The astrological connections are most certainly there and while I could get granular, it’s Toback’s Saturn in Cancer at 9 degrees which rests almost directly upon Tyson’s Cancer Sun at 8 degrees that is most telling in the context of the film. A long time experiencer of psycho-analysis, Toback plays the role of the psychic priest in Tyson’s life and the film manifests in a type of reckoning for Tyson. The saturnian/sun connection highlight’s Toback’s ability to evoke a sympathetically karmic reset, while allowing Tyson to confess the most private thoughts in his mind, which he does without much effort on Toback’s part. At the end of the film, after we witness Tyson being as brutally honest with himself as he was with his opponents in the ring, he comes away as a much more sympathetic character, who is painfully self-aware of all of his misdeeds, errors and contradictions of self. In this regard, the film is an agent of redemption and Tyson’s destiny has likely been forever altered by Toback’s unconditional observance and capture.
I recently caught up with James Toback in SF and we sat down to talk about his life as a director, Tyson, the man and the movie. The following is a pod cast of our conversation, followed by a trailer for “Tyson.”
PLAY THE PODCAST.
MOVIE TRAILER FOR TYSON.