Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beyond the Mat (Unrated Driector's Cut)

The Action Mutant…
wonders what happened to good ol’ fashioned ‘rasslin?

Beyond the Mat

review by Joe Burrows

Anyone that knows me knows that I have been a pro wrestling geek since I was a wee one. My dad would put it on before the boxing on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and I latched onto it like no one’s business. Twenty plus years later and I still watch (and yes ladies, he’s single!) though it’s never with the same wonderment that had as a kid. That’s because aside from reading about the inner workings and business side over the past several years, I came to find out (not shockingly) that wrestlers are people. Not that they are just living, breathing humans but those that to have the same problems as the rest of us. They sacrifice a normal life to learn a craft and they usually get bitten in the ass by it. They have families and friends and (judging by last year’s news events) sometimes the pressure gets to them. Of course, the main difference between us and them is they get to take out their frustrations on others with a metal folding chair if need be. Basically, Beyond the Mat creator Barry Blaustein had it right when he stated that wrestlers are just like us…only completely different. (Note: This is a review of the 108 minute unrated Director’s Cut, as opposed to the 102 minute R rated version)

The Plot, as it was:
Filmmaker Barry Blaustein (writer of Coming to America) follows several pro wrestlers over a two year period (1997-1999). Though many interesting characters are shown (such as Darren Drozdov, the wrestler that can vomit on command), the main three that are featured are wrestling legends Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Foley is a humble family man, despite his psychotic, masochistic ring persona. However, he begins to question himself after his family is upset during watching a particularly violent match of his. Funk is an octogenarian wrestling institution, nearing 60 and contemplating whether he should leave the business that made him a household name. The most intriguing is Roberts, a former WWF (World Wrestling Federation) star that abused drugs and alcohol to the point that he is doing small time shows in North Platte, Nebraska for little money. The Snake opens up about his horrid past and tries to fight his demons, all while exhibiting terrible pain and a sardonic wit. And there’s New Jack but explaining him would take all day.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Unconditional passion for the subject matter aside, Beyond the Mat is a great documentary for even those that don’t care for documentaries or pro wrestling. The smartest thing Blaustein does is he proclaims that he is a lifelong fan of wrestling. This leads to everything having more credibility later on, as you realize the guy is not just a mark with rose colored glasses and a camera rented for the weekend. Anyone can totally relate to these people and therefore, it makes what we see more human. We all know a Foley or Funk, the guy that’s at the end of the bar with the best stories and willing to buy a round for everyone. The two guys’ segments are great because the viewer can see they’re genuinely good guys who may be a little imperfect when it comes to dealing with life “out of the ring”. The Roberts segment is entertaining, horrifying, depressing and amazing all at once. His pre-wrestling days read like a horror show and despite knowing about his past, it’s still a car crash to watch because we realize that he is his own worst enemy. The scenes in which he visits his scorned twenty-something daughter are tough to watch, as one can sense the bitterness and all around pain involved. However, there are still fun moments for fans in the film, from the darkly funny (Jake stopping mid- soliloquy to check a spot on his coat) to the kind of moments that you can only imagine happening in this business (WWF chairman Vince McMahon urging Drozdov on with “HE’S…HE’S GONNA…HE’S GONNA PUKE! HE’S GONNA PUUUUUUUUKE!”). There is an anecdote for anyone here, with too many to list all at once. The man that almost steals the film is Jerome Young (aka New Jack), a former bounty hunter turned wrestler with four justifiable homicides under his belt! He seems charismatic and totally likable, which makes his proclamation of “I’m a very violent man…and I will hurt you” all the scarier. Oddly enough, the tagline for the film was “The film Vince McMahon doesn’t want you to see!” Honestly, I don’t see the issue with it, since there were legal issues from both sides. After all, it’s just stories of inner human conflict at its finest. Besides, if this film was made today, it would look much worse.

Character/Supporting Actor Sighting!:
- Those with a fair eye for obscure wrestler sightings will notice Sylvester “The Bear” Terkay (sans beard) as the wrestler in the flashback sequence in the very beginning. He’s unaccredited and it’s not listed on his IMDB page but the film is listed on the man’s official resume.

Body Count/Violence: 0. No one dies over the course of the film, which is a direct contrast to how many pro wrestlers have died since this movie was first released. Amazingly enough, only Michael Hegstrand (Road Warrior Hawk) and John Tenta (Earthquake) are the only ones in the film (seen in archive footage) that have died since 1999. As for the violence, anyone that has watched pro wrestling in the last 10-15 years knows what to expect. Lots of blood, chair and table spots, weapon shots, and the overall physicality of pro wrestling apply here. Foley’s hardway cut after the Royal Rumble 99 match is particularly nasty.

Sexuality/Nudity: Nothing really, with the closest being Funk rolling out of his bed in his BVDs. Roberts’ beer gut is pretty obscene, though.

Language/Dialogue: Occasionally strong, namely during Paul Heyman’s motivational speech and anything involving New Jack. Jake going into detail about his sexual appetites and shady past is heady stuff, as well.

How bad was it?:
Even critics that poo poo on pro wrestling admitted this was a very effective film. They liked the human aspect of movie, while fans loved the fact there was a film about pro wrestling that didn’t suck for a change.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Like the majority of documentaries, Blaustein produced BTM for very little money ($500,000). Made through Lions Gate Films and Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment, Universal released Beyond the Mat on 10/24/99 in one theater for $9,532. It gained a larger release on 3/19/00, though it was only released on 298 screens (its highest number of screens). Though never a mainstream success, with its highest box office ranking being 19th, the film ended its run with a gross of $2.1 million and became a popular rental on DVD.

Film: ****1/2/*****
Entertainment value: *****/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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