Thursday, 12 July 2007

Beyond the Mat - Film Review

It’s been about six years since what is regarded as the best wrestling documentary was released. Director Barry Blaustein spent three years travelling up and down the highways of America in an attempt to find out what the wrestling business is really about. The end result was the compelling and controversial Beyond the Mat.
Even six years after it’s release, Beyond the Mat makes compelling viewing, even if it’s just to see how the lives and careers of those documented in the film have progressed. For some, a great deal has changed, while for others, time has more or less stood still.

For me, the three main focuses of the film were Mick Foley, Terry Funk, and Jake Roberts. The scenes with Mick spending time with his wife and children were particularly compelling, especially for those people who were only familiar with his sadistic in-ring characters, Cactus Jack and Dude Love. As Blaustein himself comments, Mick Foley is probably the sanest man in the history of professional wrestling. But the scenes during his Royal Rumble match with The Rock, where his kids are in tears and his wife has to take them away from the action are both compelling and distressing at the same time.

Then we have the legend that is Terry Funk, as he helps launch Extreme Championship Wrestling onto a national stage  with the company’s first pay-per-view, Barely Legal, before moving onto his retirement, an emotional moment as he lost his final match to Bret Hart.

Then there’s Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Blaustein’s most vocal critic in what are possibly the most controversial  segments of the film. Jake’s story is a tragic one, of his battles with drug addiction, and of his strained relationships with his father and daughter. While watching the tearful reunion with his daughter, you get the feeling that Jake isn’t being entirely truthful with himself, and that this scene would have been better played out in private.

But as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it’s interesting to see where some of the film’s main players are now, six years later.

Mike Modest, who received a WWF try-out during the film, is still wrestling, having achieved a great deal of success with Pro Wrestling NOAH in Japan.

Shortly before the film was released, Darren Drozdov was paralysed after an in-ring accident. Droz continues to make progress today, but is still confined to a wheelchair.

ECW signed a national television contract with TNN during the making of the film, Two years later, the company went bankrupt.

Terry Funk’s retirement was, like his many other retirements, short-lived, and he continues to compete to this day, at the age of 61.

Jake Roberts continues to battle his personal demons. Having fallen foul of the law while living and working in Britain, Jake returned to America this year, appeared on Monday Night War, and signed a merchandise deal with WWE. Rumour has it that Vince McMahon is personally paying for Jake’s rehab treatment. In a shoot interview with Rob Feinstein five years ago, Jake said he would be taking legal action against Blaustein because of his portrayal in the film, but nothing ever came of this. Jake has been extremely critical of the director in numerous interviews he has given since the film’s release.

In conclusion, Beyond the Mat is indeed compelling viewing, and one of the best wrestling documentaries ever made, on a par with Wrestling with Shadows. Barry Blaustein did a hell of a job portraying the wrestling business in a positive light. It’s a hell of a film, and one that any wrestling fan should make a permanent part of their collection.