Beyond The Mat
*** GM
Starring: Mick Foley, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Terry Funk, Vince McMahon, Jim Ross


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BIAS ALERT: I've been an on-and-off fan of big-time wrasslin' since I was a young 'un, so there was a very slim chance that I wasn't going to like this film. I currently watch for the absurdist comedy value - most recently hooked again when I found out there's an actual wrestler calling himself "Mr. Ass" (no, unfortunately, he does NOT dress like a gigantic walking ass). Therefore, a documentary about the lives of a handful of real professional wrestlers promised to be very illuminating and interesting to me.

That's what I got from this film. Focusing on wrestling legends Terry Funk, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Mick Foley, with significant appearances by guys from the ECW - a wrestling federation building its reputation on being more gruesomely violent than the others, Vince McMahon - owner of the WWF, Jim Ross - WWF commentator, a group of guys from a wrestling training camp trying to make it big, and cameos by guys like The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Jesse Ventura, Koko B. Ware, etc. Notably absent are representatives from the WCW - Ted Turner's wrestling organization that currently features Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Goldberg, etc.

Terry Funk is an aging man with really bad knees that has needed to hang up the tights for quite a while, but is having a hard time giving it all up. Jake Roberts is an intelligent man that could still be flourishing in the business today if the horrible experiences of his life hadn't scarred him so and completely alienated him from most everyone, including his daughter, but his current existance is lonely, tortured and sad. Mick Foley is a dedicated father of two with a very happy home, despite his psychotically dangerous wrestling style. The impact wrestling has on their bodies, their minds and their families is examined closely here, and we get to see the different types of people that pursue this sorta nonsense for a living and how diverse their lives can be.

Director Barry W. Blaustein does a good job in picking which wrestlers to focus on, giving us a good selection of the good, the bad and the ugly. Vince McMahon does not come off as the egomaniacal bastard that I've always heard he actually is, so I have a feeling a lot of the WWF stuff in the film was just a show for the cameras on their parts. But what bothers me the most is seeing what's happened to Jake Roberts. He was one of the coolest grapplers from my childhood, and now he's a burnt out wreck of a man, addicted to crack and doing time for nonpayment of child support. You can see the intelligence in him, you can see the lost potential and you can see the horrible hurt. Sorta sucks some of the fun out of watching the old Wrestlemanias... and maybe THAT'S part of the reason McMahon flipped out about the movie and didn't allow any advertising on his programs for it - cuts down on his royalties. We KNOW McMahon is an asshole and has been for a long time - read Jesse Ventura's "I Ain't Got Time To Bleed" if you don't think so. There's lots of juicy stuff about McMahon's anti-union moves. Jake Roberts, although hardly a reliable source anymore, believes that McMahon's policies of forcing his wrestlers to perform every day and stay on the road constantly is part of what led to his estrangement from everyone he's held dear, and part of how he's become hooked on drugs - although he's quick to claim that he's also fucked up enough things on his own and he's not pitying himself.

Side note - dead pro wrestler rundown: Adrian Adonis, Andre The Giant, Junkyard Dog, Ravishing Rick Rude, All the Von Erichs, Owen Hart. Any more tragic wrasslin' deaths, post 'em on the boards.

Pro wrestling - it's a dirty job that nobody really has to do at all, but big burly guys are drawn to it nonetheless. Somehow, though, grown men shaving, waxing and greasing themselves up, putting on diapers and pretending to fight has drawn a huge audience for decades now, and it won't stop anytime soon. It alternates between being hilarious and being depressing. Another weird quirk of a weird culture. Welcome to Earth.

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