003797Reviews & Counting
Beyond the Mat
DVD disk
10.08.2004 By: The Shootin Surgeon
Beyond the Mat order
Barry W. Blaustein

Mick Foley
Terry Funk


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Moved by a lifelong passion for professional wrestling, filmmaker Barry Blaustein hit the documentary trail for three years in order to answer his own question: "What kind of human being bashes another man's skull into a ring post for a living?" The resulting answer comes courtesy of one the best, most entertaining and educational documentaries about the sometimes seedy world of the squared circle.
I don't think I've ever known of anyone in the world who's managed to come off as a sleazier, slimier human being than WWE boss Vince McMahon, but there's no denying his golden touch that's brought wrestling to the forefront of entertainment and transformed it into a billion dollar entertainment behemoth that's swallowed up competition, shelf-space, network time and chewed up and spit out men's lives in the process. Barry Blaustein does a remarkable job of taking us through a small slice of some of these men's lives outside the ring. Some have gone on to benefit from the sport, other have sunk into drugs, poverty and despair while others smack their lips at the riches they see in their future as they try to become superstars themselves. Splitting most of his time between Mick Foley, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Terry Funk, Blaustein provides us with several perspectives of what the sport can do. Foley has gone on in his post-career to find success as an author while Roberts, well into his fifties and having spent away the fortune he made as one of the eighties' biggest star, travels around the country fighting in small town arenas for a fistful of dollars, trying to run away from drug addiction and a shattered personal life. As one who cheered for Roberts as a youngster, his heartbreaking segments moved me to tears as I remembered the tall lanky man who could send crowds into a frenzy. To see him broken and aging was a lot more difficult than I would have imagined.

For anyone who utters the words "wrestling is fake", the film also provides ample proof that when it comes to competition, athleticism, perseverance and risk, it's only all too real. If you look around the major professional sports, I doubt you'll find even one athlete who can put up with the pain and destruction these guys inflict upon their bodies year-round and on a daily basis. Most football players would miss entire seasons with what wrestlers consider routine injuries and a few of these guys could probably beat up an entire basketball team with one hand tied to one ankle. Mick Foley's injuries reads like a grocery list and the punishment these guys go through in the name of entertainment is simply phenomenal. Admittedly, one of the turning points the sport went though was McMahon's final admission back in the mid-nineties that yes, the outcome of the matches is pre-arranged. It came as a surprise to no one but allowed fans and media to peer closer into the making of a match, revealing just how demanding it actually is. What other job on earth requires that you destroy yourself and someone else while putting on a show, talking on the mike, and keeping all the storylines in place? Blaustein's documentary is just another testament to how much respect these guys actually deserve. He walks you through all these things from a never-before-seen perspective and collects honest feedback from the central figures themselves. Billed as "The Movie Vince McMahon Doesn't Want You to See", it's also an indictment of the sport's current mastermind while at the same time justifying his actions as necessary for survival. This is a brilliant documentary for wrestling fans and non-fans alike. A touching, sometimes shocking look into the lives of men who go the distance to entertain others, while all too often, disregarding their own selves.
To begin with, you can listen to the enhanced full-length commentary with Barry W. Blaustein, Mick “Mankind” Foley and Jesse “The Body” Ventura: If ever you had any doubts that even the wildest wrestlers and characters can be some of the most intelligent and articulate people around, you’ll get them all dispelled courtesy of this commentary track with filmmaker Blaustein and Wrestling Legends Mick Foley and Governor Jesse Ventura. With a tremendous well of experience from which to draw, the men go through the film and discuss it in moderate detail. They have stories galore and are in great position to validate or deny whatever is on screen. The “enhancement" simply means that you can see them on screen when they talk.

Even more interesting is the follow-up feature, Dinner with the Guys (16 mins.), in which the three men sit around dinner (it’s actually a bit distracting since they’re eating) and touch more on the state and evolution of wrestling. Foley and Ventura actually have diverging points of view on many things and I was hoping the elbow drops would start flying, but the closest we came to violence was when Ventura was trying to take a bite of his salad and Blaustein kept asking him questions... Dude, when Jesse “the Body” Ventura wants to eat, let...him...eat...

The other feature is a full-length audio commentary with Blaustein and the legendary Terry Funk. I think one of the most stunning revelations I got while watching this movie was how a guy like Funk, whose matches were legendary for their violence and sheer brutality could be such a soft-spoken, modest fellow. Blaustein has said that this film would never have been made without Funk’s participation and it definitely gave it some of its most poignant parts. The commentary is in line with the Funk you get to know during the documentary: smart, entertaining and funny.

In addition, you can access the theatrical trailer, some production notes and biographies of some of the wrestlers who appear the most in the film.
Unlike other documentary filmmakers who rely more on shock and who try to advance their own agendas by skewing everything toward their point of view (I name you, Michael Moore!), Blaustein delivers an honest assessment of the sport which ranges from awesome to terrifying. There's no need to be a wrestling fan or a huge follower to get it, but anyone who understands the sport a bit will tell you that it helps to really place what's said into context. A first-rate documentary which deserves to be seen.
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