Beyond the Mat (1999)

Yesterday’s review of The Wrestler made mention of how wholly depressing of a movie it is, no matter how celebratory some of the events in it were portrayed.  It made mention of how fairly accurate it was in capturing the fates of some wrestlers after their time in the limelight has died down.  Now, try to imagine how depressing an actual documentary of professional wrestling would be, oh wait, don’t imagine because director Barry W. Blaustein already did it, way back in1999.  The events in this film took place during one of the cyclical “UP” periods of the professional wrestling industry, when it was cool to like wrestling.  If the cycle continues, in a couple years we’ll see a new upswing.

Surprising for a documentary about wrestling from over 10 years ago, it doesn’t actually focus on too many guys who’ve died.  I will say that three of the main focuses of the movie – Mick Foley, Terry Funk, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts – probably should have died a couple times over.  Jake at least 20 times.  Back in the day, this doc was somewhat eye-opening and revolutionary, pulling back the curtain and showing us the inner workings of the industry.  Nowadays, if you become a well-known wrestler, you usually write a book about all the wacky backstage antics and the road and so on, and there’s a lot less mystique to the business.

For me, this movie doesn’t really explain why I’m still a wrestling fan, nor why I have been for decades.  Just thinking about showing it to someone with a passable knowledge of the business scares me, because if they see what these guys put themselves through on a nightly basis, hell for a lifetime, and don’t at least understand it a bit, well they’ve got to be questioning why I still watch it.  Seeing Foley get his head hit 20 times with a steel chair by The Rock, while watching his wife and two young kids in the front row, bawling their eyes out.  How do you rationally explain that to someone?

There are some wonderful human stories in the movie, as well as deeply depressing.  Jake Roberts is a man who by all rights should be dead by now, but possibly because of some Faustian deal keeps going.  Blaustein captures a heart-wrenching meeting between Jake and the daughter he hasn’t seen in four years, and seeing Jake admit to his own failures to his girl, well it affects you.  But Jake’s such a crafty bastard, an expert in psychology, that you’re never sure if he’s just working the cameras for maximum effect.  Oh, and if you don’t know, “working” is wrestling terminology for making something appear real.  Or maybe it was a worked shoot.  Whatever.  Sometimes I feel dumb for knowing these things.

If you have no interest in wrestling, then I doubt you’d enjoy the film.  You probably wouldn’t see the passion these people have for entertaining people, just seeing the pain they put themselves and others through on a daily basis and ask yourself why they do it and why am I watching it?  If you’re a wrestling fan though, it’s close enough to being a bible.  It’s a movie that probably had a far bigger effect on the industry than anyone in the industry would ever agree upon.

4 / 5

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About SkoochXC
Long-time blogger, Canadian, cine-snark-aphile, Tweeter and generally lonely hearted guy.

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