||Beyond the Mat
1999 - R - 108 Mins.
|Director: Barry Blaustein|
|Producer: Barry Blaustein|
|Written By: Barry Blaustein|
|Starring: Mick Foley,
Dwayne Johnson, (aka "The Rock")
|Review by: Greg Ursic
The wrestlers of my youth were overweight washed up ex-athletes with no finesse, little fanfare and even less skill who plied their trade in dingy little gyms in front of small crowds. Wrestling was far from mainstream - you would never find it on "respectable" TV stations - and it was treated with derision at best. Oh how far we've come (or fallen depending on your point of view... )
Today, wrestling matches sell out stadiums and are featured in primetime on the major networks. The wrestlers are usually in amazing shape, make six figure salaries, are adored/despised by millions, they run a flashier game and both celebrities and professional athletes alike have participated in the fun. The typical match is an absurd male soap opera complete with surgically enhanced debutantes, chock full of bravado, angst, hints of homoeroticism and filled with aerial acrobatics that would put most stuntmen to shame.
*** Warning: there are some potential spoilers ahead ***
The debate as to whether or not wrestling is fake was long ago put to rest, by of all people, the promoters themselves, who freely admit that the matches are choreographed. This allowed the matches to take place without the guidelines needed to qualify it as a sport, but to allow it to be advertised as sports entertainment . That doesn't mean however that there aren't casualties.
It's virtually impossible to simulate hitting someone with a chair with thousands of spectators looking on, as it just won't look right. The secret is learning how to absorb the blow without being seriously injured (try to take it on the back or shoulders). Still no matter how much you prepare, things can and do go wrong - Stone Cold Steve Austin was almost paralyzed recently when his head was driven into the mat, and Owen Hart was killed when his harness came undone as he was being lowered into the ring.
Barry Blaustein's quasi-documentary focuses on three men who exemplify different stages in the evolution of the "sport". Terry Funk is a fifty-something old school fighter who can't bring himself to retire even though his knees are literally falling apart. Jake "The Snake" Roberts, is the dysfunctional one-time superstar, who had the world at his feet and now wrestles in out of the way dives and looks to a crack pipe for solace. And finally there is Mick Foley, the masochistic madman who subjects himself to extreme pain to please his fans.
Although the movie isn't a hard-hitting exposé - Vince McMahon surely wouldn't have participated otherwise - it does reveal a seldom seen side of the wrestling world where dreams are dashed, and people are destroyed. You will feel like a voyeur as Roberts details the demons in his life, breaks down when he meets the daughter he hasn't seen in four years, and spends an agonizingly silent afternoon with a distant father he has spent a lifetime trying to please. A casualty of his success, you wonder how many other Roberts there are out there who have been discarded by the publicity machine.
In an A&E Biography featuring Foley, they interviewed "The Undertaker". He revealed that it was Foley's idea to be thrown from the top of the cage to a table twenty feet below in a now infamous match. He protested, fearing that Foley would be injured and possibly killed, but Foley relented, and was subsequently knocked unconscious in two separate falls. Not surprisingly, these antics have upset his family on more than one occasion. One such incident provides the setting for the most emotional moment in the film.
Foley is watching a tape of his latest match, in which he is beaten bloody with a chair by "The Rock". The camera then pans to his family, sitting at ringside, who are screaming and crying uncontrollably. An articulate, humble man, and devoted father, he is stunned. His voice quavers and he says (I'm paraphrasing here) "Oh my god. What kind of father would put his children through something like that?" Surely, this epiphany led him to turn his back on the wrestling world.
Even if you abhor wrestling, better yet, especially if you do, you will find this to be an interesting and well done film. If you're a fan, it will make you think twice next time you're caught up in the bloodlust.