Knocked Down, Then Dragged Out

Knocked Down, Then Dragged Out (photo)

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Despite all the terrible publicity Mike Tyson has gotten over the years, I’ve never forgotten seeing him nearly two decades ago on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” walking out to surprise Muhammad Ali. When Hall asked who’d win if they got into the ring, Ali pointed to Tyson. Tyson, shaking his head said, “I know I’m great. But here all heads must bow and all tongues must confess that this is the greatest of all time.” Every bit of scandal since has made me wonder what happened to the generosity and lyricism I saw that night.

James Toback’s documentary “Tyson” gives voice to a man who’s been regarded as an animal, a thug, a dimwitted brute. Often by his own actions. Talking to Toback’s camera in that curiously soft lisping voice, his head shaved and a Maori tattoo encircling his left eye, Tyson, 40 when the film was made, comes off as serious and thoughtful, a tormented man trying to find some peace, both sympathetic and, at times, frightening.

There was reason to fear that Tyson would serve the same function for Toback that Jim Brown did: a repository for the director’s fantasies about black masculinity. Toback had already lived with Jim Brown and written a book about the football great before casting the him in “Fingers.” For Toback, Brown was the superspade stud unapologetically in touch with his dominant sexuality in a way that mocked the timidity and aroused the envy of white men.

Toback’s fascination with Tyson here feels unencumbered by the baggage of racial fantasy. And though it’s not made explicit, it also feel informed by a realization of how Tyson has been used to feed racial fears. Tyson can be very scary, as in footage of a news conference when he reels off vicious homophobic threats against someone who has angered him. But it’s one thing to be scary and another to presented as the Scary Black Man.

Tyson talks about growing up rough in Brooklyn, changing from a bullied kid to one sticking up drug dealers. He got so good that when the police picked him up at 12, he had $1500 in his pocket. A succession of stints in juvie lead to a longer stretch where the prison’s boxing instructor brought the young Tyson to the attention of the great trainer Cus D’Amato, who became Tyson’s legal guardian. D’Amato lived to see Tyson make his professional debut but not to become the champion D’Amato believed he could be.

Your heart goes out to Tyson as you watch and listen to him talk about D’Amato. Speaking in a seized whisper, he clears his throat harshly, trying to get the tears out of his voice. The depth of that attachment makes it clear how lost he must have felt after D’Amato’s death. When, as Tyson admits, you don’t trust anyone and find yourself trusting the last person you expected, an old white man who takes you into his home and devotes himself to your training, that loss must make all the old suspicion and fear return with a vengeance.

04212009_Tyson3.jpgTyson’s life and career have been so mired in scandal that it’s easy to forget what an amazing fighter he was. Not only was he, at 20, the youngest heavyweight champ, he was the only one to unify the title, being recognized as such by all three major boxing organizations (the WBA, WBC and IBF). Toback sections off footage of the young Tyson in training so we can concentrate on the lightness and fluidity of his footwork. At around 215, often shorter than his opponents, Tyson was small for a heavyweight. Part of his deadly effectiveness was that he had the speed and agility of a boxer in a lower weight class. Watching him winning his first title fight against Trevor Berbick in 1986, you’re amazed not just by the unhesitating ferocity with which Tyson comes out of the corner, but the flawless timing that allows him to duck Berbick’s roundhouse punches, and the devastating grace of Tyson’s uppercuts which (the use of freeze frame allows us to see) often end with his gloved fist in a perfect sky-reaching vertical.

I wish Toback focused the same attention on the fights that followed Tyson’s 1995 release from prison after serving three years of a rape conviction. We register that Tyson, who admits he was not training seriously, has grown thicker, and that his power is no longer accompanied by speed. But there’s a frustrating sense of apprehending this in flashes.

This slapdash approach really plays against the movie when it gets to the 1997 rematch between Tyson and Evander Holyfield, in which Tyson bit his opponent on both ears. (Tyson was disqualified, fined $3 million, and lost his license to fight for a year.) Tyson claims that he was being headbutted by Holyfield, and in fact this rematch came about because Holyfield had been accused of the same thing in the match he had won against Tyson the previous year. In their rematch, we do see Tyson repeatedly trying to get the referee to intercede, and something that, when we notice it, seems very odd: Holyfield, who’s much taller than Tyson, keeps his head at the level of Tyson’s shoulder. But what we can see isn’t complete enough to allow us to draw any conclusions.

Despite Tyson’s candor, you’d have to be naïve to believe we’re getting the full story here. The fighter was the only one Toback interviewed for the film. And Tyson is listed among the executive producers, as are documentary filmmakers Nicholas and Henry Jarecki, the former of whom directed the 2006 portrait of Toback, “The Outsider.” That’s a cozy tangle of interests.

You’re very conscious of what you’re not hearing in the sections on Tyson’s dealings with women. Tyson refers to Desiree Washington, the Miss Black America contestant he raped, as “that wretched swine of a woman.” But we hear nothing of her side. At one point, he tells the story of following a woman he met at a fancy New York party into a bathroom and, he says confusingly, beginning “fellatio” on her. This sounds like an incident reported in Ben Rogers’ biography of the British philosopher A.J. Ayer, who interceded at a New York party in 1987 when Tyson was attempting to rape Naomi Campbell.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.