Thursday, November 19, 2009

Marc Jacobs vs Mike Tyson...and the Artist is...!

by Drew Martin

I have three pensive morning run, a steamy shower and ironing. The run is reflective and the shower is contemplative. The weekly ironing is when I am open to any mental journey so this is when I watch films, sometimes two in a row. This past weekend I ironed to Loic Prigent's documentary Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton followed by James Toback's documentary Tyson. One would think that the two men have nothing in common, though Malcolm Gladwell would ask you to look more closely at the details and factors of their NY/NJ influences and their birth dates. Marc Jacobs was born April 9, 1963 and Mike Tyson was born June 30, 1966.

Both films are fascinating and revealing. As a personal double-feature it is hard not to make comparisons. Tyson is, more often than not, very likeable while Jacobs comes across as needy and, at times, desperate. By popular vote, the obvious artist of the two would, of course, be Jacobs but after two hours with each man you see it quite differently. Both of them share an intense drive and incredible work ethic but while Tyson is able to step back more and survive the consequences, Jacobs seems to know that his 99% perspiration is his success and that he can never stop. There is no doubt that he has a good eye and day-to-day vision of the fashion world but he comes across as a typical overworked New Yorker and sometimes just as a frenetic manager (of thousands of people) in the absence of having a parenting role and a life outside of his career. Tyson, on the other hand, is a one-man-show and instead of managing down to the support of an army of people he is managing himself away from what he calls "leeches."

Tyson is the more interesting character of the two men because of his extremes. He talks about his pigeons like a little boy and then you see the outrageous pit bull in him biting Evander Holyfield's ear. While Jacobs is calculating others, like a reincarnation of Andy Warhol, Tyson is operating from a much deeper emotional place. He is life, death, fear, hate and love. Jacobs paddles past schools of mermaids in a sea of opinions and advice. Tyson wrestles sharks and swims in the dark pressures of the ocean's lonely depth.

In one scene we see Tyson loading a Super 8 projector and watching famous fights from the 1920's. He watched every famous fight and studied every move, over and over again. He read about all the great fighters and packed the entire history of boxing into his mind and muscles and unleashed it on each opponent at the right time. In Tyson we learn that he is a student of technique and skill, defeating men, who were much bigger and stronger than him, with his speed and moves.

With Jacobs we see not only visual appropriations of artists for his clothing, shoe and bag designs but also a continued confession that he is less than an artist. He expresses the difference between being accepted by Madonna (pop and more like him) and Edward Ruscha, who he is thrilled by (he also squeals when he sees Jeff Koons...and both Ruscha and Koons are more designers' artists, than artists' artists). Tyson has been to the zenith of his art and is the only one of the two men who discusses character: about having character like Muhammad Ali, finding cracks in his opponents' characters and then not being true to his own. Jacobs treats character like last year's designs and is a wannabee artist immersed in a visual world, collecting paintings and sculptures in compensation.

Of course, art is not a competition, but neither is boxing in the end: there are no clear winners or losers only internal struggles.