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Mark Coale



Let's All Go To The Movies

It's taken months, but Beyond the Mat has finally opened across the country. And we've heard nothing but raves from the wrestling community (Titan Tower notwithstanding) and even mostly positive reviews from the film critics.

However, just how much overlap is there between the two? Just what do film critics know about the wrestling business and vice versa?

Well, it's time to hear from someone with a fairly decent knowledge of both. And who would that be? Humbly, yours truly. A former film critic with a degree in film studies that also has worked in the wrestling business in front of and behind the curtain.

Lest my later comments come across too negative, let me say that Beyond the Mat is a very entertaining movie that does a nice job of showing that wrestlers ARE real people with all too real injuries. And every wrestling fan should certainly see it, if only as to not take for granted the travails the boys go through on a nightly basis.

And now, the Buts.

As a general rule, I do not like documentaries as works of film. That's not to say they can't be fascinating (especially the works of Errol Morris), but I find the entire concept disconcerting. Unless the filmmakers can completely make their film without the knowledge of the subject, I don't believe in the authenticity of the footage. No matter how people say that they aren't performing for the camera or aren't modifying their behavior, consciously or subconsciously, on some level, I can't buy it.

And this goes for your average run-of-the-mill documentary. Add in the whole nature of the wrestling business and your credibility goes down another couple notches. It's been said that wrestlers are the best actors in the world, given their need to be in character for so much time. Can they really turn it off for a "real" camera? Do they really want to? Isn't a documentarian just another person to work? I mean, would you ever believe anything Vince McMahon says in a "shoot interview?" Hell, I wouldn't completely believe anything he said under oath in a court of law swearing on a stack of bibles after being given Sodium Penathol.

Second, if you have to make a documentary, I believe the subjects should be the focus of the picture, not the filmmaker. I don't think a documentary should be about the person making the movie going on some journey looking for knowledge, be it about wrestling, self-discovery or the Loch Ness Monster. I have nothing personal against Barry Blaustein, but I don't need your love of wrestling as a framing device.

Third, I dislike the manipulation of facts to tell a story. In the movie, the viewer is led to believe that the Funk Banquet took place sometime between the first ECW PPV and the Funk "Retirement" card in Amarillo. Most of us know that the Banquet actually happened the night before the PPV. I was there, I should know. In a documentary, the truth should be first and foremost over everything else.

Then there's the wrestling content of the picture. Much like Mick Foley, if I never see the footage from Hell in a Cell again, I won't complain. I was in awe of the match just like everyone else, but, as Mick says, his career was about more than falling off the top of a cage.

Which brings us to Royal Rumble 99. A year and change ago, I wrote in this column how disturbed I was by the match. And seeing the footage again still aggravates me to no end. I still find it reprehensible that Mick took a dozen chair shots to the head unprotected. I don't care if Mick agreed to it. I don't care if everyone thought it was a great match. I still think it was a bad idea. (Let's not forget the Rock blindly throwing the steps onto Mick lying on the floor, which I still think violated the trust between workers.)

I now dislike the match even more since I know that Mick's wife and children were mere inches away from their father losing thousands of brain cells, thud after sickening thud.

(Of course, after watching the movie, I have doubts about whether the whole "Royal Rumble" scene was a work or shoot. Not the violence, but whether the camera crew and the Foley family knew what was going to happen and just how much of the emotion was worked. I have no proof on the matter, nor am I making any accusations. But the fact that the doubt exists is enough in this case.)

One hidden gem of the movie, given it took so long to make, is seeing just far people have risen or fallen. We see glimpses backstage of Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara at WWF shows. Enjoying your time away from Titan, boys? We also see, in a somewhat technical role, everyone's favorite dirty girl, Stephanie McMahon, working on the PPVs, sitting next to daddy. And how about Jim Ross (still off camera from the Bell's Palsy) feeding lines to Jerry Lawler during a show? Maybe that's why Michael Cole has improved as an announcer?

Beyond the Mat, if nothing else, will hopefully be another step in the destigmatization of the wrestling business. Many of those in the business are presented as thoughtful and introspective, who just happen to work in a violent profession. It's far from a perfect movie, but it's pretty darned good.

My grade as film critic: ***

My grade as someone working in the business: *** 1/2

Mark Coale
Odessa Steps Magazine

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