My approach to pro wrestling is pretty much the same as the one director Barry Blaustein had in putting this documentary together over the span of three years (see my summary line). However I go back a bit further in time to the early and mid-Sixties with favorites like Bruno Sammartino, Bobo Brazil, Killer Kowalski and Vittorio 'The Argentine' Apollo. Back then there was an extra 'W' in WWE, when it was known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation, owned by Vince McMahon Sr. I pretty much stayed a fan for a few years after the rise of Hulk Hogan and the introduction of bizarre story elements. By then, the 'sport' began erasing the fine line between reality and fakery, as the action called for more and more over-the-top theatrics and daredevil type wrestling moves. It was more than evident by then that entertainment had taken over in the minds and hearts of wrestling fans.
I can understand the attraction of these giant behemoths pounding each other while the smaller and lighter wrestlers dazzle with their high flying moves. Which is why the WWE has become such a large business enterprise worth close to a billion dollars. This film examines some of what grew the the company under the direction of Vince McMahon Jr. and his family, along with a snapshot look at some of the stars both on the way up and on the way down. Highlighted are Darrin Droz, Terry Funk, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, and Mick Foley in his various iterations as Mankind, Cactus Jack and Dude Love. The film takes pains to examine how the matches, even though they are pre-ordained, present a very real threat of danger and injury to the participants. Some, like Foley, take their enthusiasm to a level that becomes life threatening. I was no longer following wrestling when Mankind had that match with The Rock, and I have to say, those chair shots to the head made me wince as much as Mrs. Foley in the audience. Having their kids watch was cruel and unusual punishment.
For some, probably most, the life of a wrestler boils down to a career much like that of Jake Roberts. Constantly on the road with not much in the way of diversion, they resort to drugs and alcohol, with the resultant effect of divorce and estrangement from family. Roberts was not a discriminating drug abuser, he tried most everything, becoming addicted to crack cocaine and pills, with alcohol thrown in for good measure. How he and the other subjects of this documentary lived and persevered in a demanding career will open the eyes of most viewers who can't imagine what exists behind the glamour of screaming fans and a big paycheck. Fortunately in Roberts case, with the help of friends and family, he got through his addictions and managed a return to some semblance of a normal life. For more on that, I'd refer the reader to the 2015 documentary, "The Resurrection of Jake the Snake".
Beyond the Mat
Action / Biography / Documentary / Sport
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1 hr 43 min
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