James Toback is a charming dude. You hear about the man's infamous lifestyle – the sex and drugs and gambling to absurd extremes – and you expect to see a hipster jerk, but the guy is genial and matter-of-fact. The highlight of the festival may be his deadpan description of participating in near-daily orgies at former Cleveland Browns quarterback Jim Brown's residence – he first made a fleeting mention of these events in an unrelated context, then elaborated colorfully in response to a brave audience questioner. He's sharp, articulate, surprising, and readily recognizable as the mind behind his singular, volatile films. And he has a charisma that sneaks up on you.
The on-stage conversation with Toback was followed by a screening of Tyson, which is already playing in some cities and will expand to more in the coming weeks. The documentary, narrated by Mike Tyson himself, also sneaks up on you. At first, Toback's perspective seems clear: Tyson narrates his well-known history with the embarrassment of a reformed man who looks back on his reckless youth with disbelief that he could be so dumb, so crazy. We feel for him. But as the film plays, we become more and more uncomfortable as the events Tyson recounts with the same sheepish regret become more and more recent. Before long, he's looking back at 2003, 2004, 2005, still shaking his head at himself. The chilling subtext of Toback's otherwise sympathetic film is that Tyson's attempts to attribute the crazy outbursts that have punctuated his career to temporary insanity – and the implicit assertion that he is a changed, newly rational man -- are not altogether credible.
Click through for thoughts on The Age of Stupid, Still Walking and (500) Days of Summer.