What do you get when you blend grand opera, theater of the absurd and
gladiators? The World Wrestling Federation, of course.
In the only sport with script writers, composers, costume designers and
directors, professional wrestling is unabashedly just pure show
business. It's a spectacle that P.T. Barnum would have loved to own.
After the WWF's recent IPO, you can even buy a piece of it yourself.
Barry W. Blaustein's documentary, BEYOND THE MAT, takes a loving but
honest look behind the curtain to show us how this bizarre piece of
entertainment is operated. The "sport" is so popular that the
documentary about it is getting released to commercial theaters rather
than art houses, something relatively unheard of in the world of docs.
Make no mistake, however, about wrestling. It is a dangerous endeavor.
The blood you see is real, as the combatants do such things as take
metal chairs and pulverize their opponents' heads. These willing
victims get their bodies beat to a pulp up to 10 times a week. The pain
is no less intense because it is carefully scripted. From the times of
the Romans, we know that there has always been a market for watching
people being subjected to such incredible abuse.
Blaustein's documentary is hilarious -- frequently frighteningly funny.
The performers go for maximum camp and their interviews off-stage are
completely off the wall.
Most of the stars or would-be stars of the WWF have some schtick in
order to stand out. Jake the Snake, as you might guess, has his
monstrous snakes that he brings along.
One newcomer has a skill that impresses the CEO of the WWF, which is
still a family business even though it's publicly traded. The wrestler,
who is given the new stage name of Puke, is able to regurgitate on cue.
"But, what if you weren't born with the skill of projectile wrestling?"
Blaustein asks rhetorically. The answer? You pay someone to train you
in wrestling techniques, although your chances of hitting the big time
are extremely slim.
The film, which is mesmerizing in the first thirty minutes, quickly runs
out of ideas. As fascinating as the first part is, the rest of the
movie is way too repetitive.
Some segments have no resonance. Typical of these is the one about Jake
the Snake, a crack addict, trying to relate to his abandoned, now
grownup daughter. We can be sorry for her, but the inclusion of the
material just feels awkward.
Still, the first part of the film is more than worth the price of
admission. Actually watching 30 minutes of it and then walking out
wouldn't be a bad strategy. You would have great fun, and staying will
not add much.
BEYOND THE MAT runs too long at 1:42. It is rated R for strong violence
and language and would be acceptable for older teenagers. (Young kids,
including those of the contestants who are beaten up, can and do go to
the matches, something that I find shocking. Of course, shocking is
what pays the bills at the WWF.)
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes