I was never, ever, ashamed to admit that I was a wrestling fan. My fandom has never been a secret, and even when I was a kid, I found myself constantly interested and talking about the matches. I believed wrestling was real through out most of my childhood years, and no one could tell me a damn thing different. Years later, when it began to be clear to me that it wasn't real. I then shifted into the denial state, because no one was going to tell me that my favorite show was phony. Fast forward some odd years, I'm in my early 30's and I STILL watch wrestling a lot. I've taken it many steps further and I've become an avid reviewer of the pseudo-sport. I might write a few wrestling reviews today. But the difference between now and then is that I no longer believe it's real; I know it's pre-determined, I know it's fake, and I still don't care. I love wrestling and I doubt that's ever going to change.
Now why do I love wrestling? That's a question I've been asked many times. First of all, it was something that I always wanted to do. Wrestling is the reason why I took up weight lifting, and today is why I still have a somewhat built frame. Due to personal reasons, my dream to become a wrestler ended in failure, but oh well. The other reasons are because I do like the action, cheesy acting, drama, and angles. But as time went on, I found myself far more interested in the underbelly of the business. I like to read and hear about the dirt, ie; Vince's double crossing of Bret, Shawn Michaels picking up his ball and going home when things didn't go his way, Cornette (gotta love that guy, seriously) verbally tearing someone a new A-Hole without remorse, the always honest Hulk Hogan; booking himself and his friends, manipulating events, and just throwing the middle finger to everyone else burying careers while he's at it, Chris Jericho damn near choking out Goldberg back stage, I mean just some good stuff. Which brings me to among the finest films I have ever watched about the business, Beyond The Mat.
Directed by Barry W. Blaustein, Beyond The Mat is a documentary that he put together after going on the road for 3 years, interviewing various wrestlers and company owners, with intentions on giving us the real scoop of the going on's behind the scenes of pro wrestling. Barry explores the world thorough enough, to the point where the movie would later be dubbed; The Movie Vince McMahon Doesn't Want You To See. I always wondered what was Vince's real problem with it. I mean, the film was released in 1999, it's not like we didn't already know he's a cutthroat, and only cares about putting asses in seats even by this time. So his little line about taking wrestling and making movies really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.
Barry begins the film with some very interesting commentary on what got him interested in putting together this documentary in the first place. His approach to the topic was indeed brilliant to me, because he opened with something that I use to pay little mind to when I first saw this years ago. I use to sometimes forget that this was a job, and these wrestlers had families to feed. He then hits the road and starts the trip by exploring the then WWF, and you will see Vince signing a future superstar by the name of Darren Drozdov, who would later be billed as a character named Puke, because he could make himself throw up at will. Unfortunately, his career would be cut very short due to an in-ring injury that paralyzed him. This occurred in a match with D'Lo Brown, when he dropped Droz on his head, mainly due to a fan throwing a drink in the ring. He also goes back stage and you will see the writing from Vince Russo (a complete hack), instructing Sable to heavily sell an injury during a match. You will also see Mick Foley and the Rock discussing the action during a rehearsal for their "I Quit" match.
Barry ventures into the indie circuit next (for "some reason" WCW wanted no part of the project). He stops at All Pro Wrestling which also happens to be a school, in the process, he follows and interviews two rising stars who leave to tryout for WWF in a dark match, which results in two broken hearts. He also comes across Koko. B. Ware and former female wrestler Chyna; someone who seriously deserves no credit for anything in the business, because whenever her name is mentioned, something damaging to wrestling always follows. Now the main attraction to the film happens to be two legends; Terry Funk and Mick Foley, along with the fallen star who was constantly battling demons Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
Funk is someone who has never been one to let go of the business. At 53 years old, during the time of this filming; he was already on the verge of physical breakdown. His doctor explained that it was a miracle he was still walking. Funk was told, at best, he was going to spend the rest of his life in pain because of his left knee. While his right knee had to be replaced altogether. He still goes out of his way, to help build the small wrestling company ECW, and performs in a three way dance at their very first ppv against ECW's Champion, lead killer at the time Raven. This portion of the film is well done and fun to watch, because you get to see another, more down to Earth side of the masochist. There's also a good portion of wrestling footage, along with his "final" match against Bret Hart in a house show.
Mick Foley aka Cactus Jack aka Mankind aka Dude Love is explored very well also. Foley has always been known as a serious risk taker, who has put his body on the line for the fans. Through out the years, we would see his high spots escalate. During his Cactus Jack run in WCW, he feuded with the monster heel Vader, and in a match, Vader put him in a headlock and gave him stiff punches to his nose making him bleed. Word was, that Vader, who is known as one of the most gentle big men in the business, didn't even want to do it, nor did he want to powerbomb Mick on the concrete. But these bumps here were childs play compared to the things he would later endure such as; taking very nasty and unprotected chair shots to the head, thrown in barbwire, set on fire, etc.
Mick's crowning moment would be at the King of Ring 1998 in a Hell in a Cell Match against the Undertaker. In which, Mick would be thrown from the top of the cage twice. The madness didn't stop there. At the Royal Rumble 99, Mick would be on the receiving end of one vicious chairshot after the next. This would all seem like standard fare, accept his wife and two kids were at ringside with front row seats to the carnage. Barry filmed his family's horrific reactions while he was being beaten. It got so out of hand that his wife grabbed their screaming and crying kids and left. He also showed Foley getting stitches in front of his kids. I don't think that's something I could have done.
Jake is the last one to be examined, and this is when the film takes a far darker turn. We get to see Jake who's a shadow of his former self, a man who used to perform in front of thousands of spectators on the biggest shows, now performing in front of two hundred if he's lucky, in back yard spots so far down the chain I doubt they truly qualify as indies. Plus strung on crack and cocaine. It really doesn't stop from there, as Barry also dives deeper into his life, and interviews him with his daughter that he doesn't even get along with. I think Barry stumbled a bit here trying to paint Jake as a tragic figure, when yes, I will say it, he's nothing but a loser who chose to take the easy way out. And as a result, has tarnished his image beyond repair.
Barry did a great job with this documentary and I enjoyed the feel of it. At no time, does it actually feel like a movie, and adding to the credibility of the film. It helps that Barry is also a wrestling fan, therefore, he made this film for fans, as he's not trying to put a stain on the wrestling business. But instead, show to us that these people who beat themselves up for our entertainment are indeed human with real lives and problems. I also thought it was a nice move to get the wives point of view on how it effects them and their families.
These guys need to sit their asses down.
Terry Funk's retirement lasted all of what... like 3 months maybe. He was right back in the ring, and Undertaker just so happened to chokeslam him out of his shoes literally at King of the Ring 98. Terry has never stopped wrestling, and in the early 2000's he has wrestled against CM Punk, a man 36 years his junior, on top of that, he even wrestled in an "Exploding Barbwire Death Match". At the age of 66, he still appears at random house shows playing an enforcer. I respect what he's done for wrestling, but he seriously needs to stop.
Foley, well, he was shown his family's reaction and admitted that he felt like a bad person for putting them through that. So bad, the following year, he would be right back at it again in a vicious Street Fight at Royal Rumble 2000 against Triple H, where he would get his ass beat up real good again. He would also take another trip off the top of a cage the very next month, which saw him crash through the ring. The madness still hasn't stopped. He would go through more beatings since then, and he came out of a Last Man Standing Match with Ric Flair last October in TNA. Flair is another one who should sit his ass down. But I do respect Foley, because while he's doing this, he's putting younger stars over most of the time. Make no mistake, he made Triple H and Randy Orton. Now Jake, I honestly don't know what he's up to, but I hope he's finally found some type of peace. The last time I saw him was in 2005 I think, during one of TNA's shows.
The DVD also has an interview with Barry featuring Jesse Ventura and Foley. This is a must hear as they address some other issues like the cutthroat that goes on in the business. Mick gives an example by speaking on a situation when Taz was tore down by a group of guys when he left the room. But most notably for me, is when Jesse mentioned how wrestlers become their characters and can't separate from them. I saw this again yesterday, and I immediately thought of the Iron Sheik. This 67 year old, senile fossil who can barely walk, talks about his matches like they were real. He actually believes that the next time he sees Scott Hall, that he's going to beat his ass and put him in the Camel Clutch. His videos are so entertaining; to see them, go on youtube and type Iron Sheik shoots, and have yourself a fun time, also, make sure you have a few drinks too with the volume all the way up.
Overall, Beyond The Mat is one of the better films I seen concerning wrestling. It opened up my eyes to a lot of things when I first saw it, and even once in awhile, it still feels like I'm learning something new. It's a very good look into the sports entertainment business. Recommended whether you're a fan or not.
Pros: -Lots of information -Well made and entertaining -Nice interview in the extras
Cons: -Takes a darker turn
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