Beyond the Mat
Random Acts of ExposÉBy Dan Katz
Directed and written by Barry Blaustein
With Mick Foley, Jake Roberts and Terry Funk
Lions Gate Films
Hello. My name is Dan and I’m a Jerichoholic. In fact, I do tend to talk about it rather openly, but this my first admission in a mainstream publication that I’ve been watching professional wrestling for years. I still watch it, and I love it. There are two spring movie releases associated with wrestling this year; Ready To Rumble, a David Arquette comedy endorsed by the accelerating downward spiral that is WCW, and Beyond The Mat, an unauthorized documentary about the wrestling industry and its employees. I’m going to discuss the one that isn’t a complete waste of time.
Barry Blaustein’s Beyond The Mat comes with more acclaim than one would expect from a wrestling film. Since documentaries aren’t all that accessible, the Oscar committee designates a list of ten films that voters in the category must view for eligibility. BTM made that list, although it was not eventually nominated (allowing me to throw all my support behind Buena Vista Social Club). Truth be told, the film focuses primarily on the lives of wrestlers outside of wrestling, specifically those Blaustein worshipped growing up. This gives the exchanges an intimate atmosphere, but at the same time makes the movie occasionally feel like an episode of FANatic.
I’m still not quite sure what Blaustein was trying to do structurally with the movie. On the one hand, he achieves a nice effect by exploring many different levels of wrestlers, including the current superstar (Mick Foley), the recent retiree (Terry Funk, who has retired “for good” on at least five separate occasions), the young trainees, and the washed-up veteran (Jake Roberts). On the other hand, Blaustein throws eclectic footage into the film in the order that he encountered it, creating more of a short-term autobiography than a concentrated study. MTV’s recent documentary “True Life: I Am A Pro Wrestler” juxtaposed the stories of three wrestlers at completely different stages of their careers with very powerful and engaging results. Blaustein has an even greater variety of material, but he doesn’t use it as effectively as he could, and the outcome is disappointing.
There are numerous guides to the inside world of pro wrestling available now in multiple formats (the best by far is Mick Foley’s best-selling autobiography, Have A Nice Day), but Beyond The Mat scores over the others in its coverage of two major issues. The centerpiece of the movie comes from a chilling sequence with Jake Roberts who frankly discusses his cocaine addiction and his inability to communicate with his family often through muddled rants that are even more frightening (and more compelling) than his notoriously spooky character interviews.
The coverage of risk-taker Foley is also compelling: Blaustein’s footage of Foley’s wife and children watching one of his most violent matches at ringside and crying is poignant; his footage of Foley watching the tape and suddenly realizing how his career is affecting his family is positively heartbreaking. Foley finally made the decision to retire this year; judging from his scene in Beyond The Mat, it’s quite possible the film provided motivation.
It’s hard to say how much exposure you need to professional wrestling to really enjoy Beyond The Mat. The faint of heart should probably steer clear: Funk, Foley, and New Jack are three of the most masochistic wrestlers working today, and all are shown in action with copious amounts of blood. The uninitiated fan may find the movie interesting, but there are too many names pitched too quickly with too little thematic structure to really leave any lasting impression. At the same time, the seasoned wrestling aficionado will most likely be disappointed with the shallow coverage, and while it’s interesting to see the lives behind the wrestlers, the film is just too disorganized and covers too much previously explored territory to be satisfying.
There are some interesting stories told in Beyond The Mat, and plenty of opportunities for adolescent fans in the audience to entertain themselves by acknowledging the Rock or identifying the Blue Meanie. But if you’re searching for a study of professional wrestling with depth, look somewhere else. Blaustein’s research and adventures in the wrestling world are diligent and exhaustive. It’s too bad that he doesn’t really have anything to say about them.