Attack the Doc: The Over the Top Edition
Welcome to ATTACK THE DOC! A JoBlo.com feature that explores the world of documentaries and picks out the best among the best, among the best. We'll cover everything from subcultures around the world, to economic collapse, to music and trashy hillbillies from every walk of life. So pop a squat, turn off reality and sit back and enjoy a little slice of someone else's.
PULLING JOHN is a 2010 documentary directed by Vassiliki Khonsari.
Professional Arm Wrestling champion John Brzenk found himself in just another tournament in Warsaw, Poland. In his 40s, the reinging, unchallenged World Champion had been giving his career a lot of thought recently, wondering which direction things will lead if he won another tournament and if he should lose, would he retire? He confesses that a part of him WANTS to lose, in order to have a goal to reach again. It's not often that World Champions secretly want to lose, and though Brznek never lacked for motivation in his career, being the man at the top of the mountain he found he couldn't get any higher. At 6'1 220lbs (typically a light heavyweight class), Brzenk already had the reputation as a "giant slayer", taking on much larger opponents in the super heavyweight class and defeating them all. But as Brzenk toiled over the uncerainty of his future, two eager, up and coming arm wrestlers lined up the "giant slayer" in their crosshairs, looking to make a name for themselves.
PULLING JOHN is an example of what I love about documentaries: a look at a subculture that I know little to nothing about. Sure, I look huge in my pictures, and doubtless you often thought, "f*cking Moreno would kill me in arm wrestling", but my prior knowledge of arm wrestling came from my older brothers kicking my ass and the 1987 classic OVER THE TOP. The film follows John Brzenk (the titular "John"), the World Champion of arm wrestling, soft spoken monster of a Russian, Alexey Voyevoda, and a young, trash talking American named Travis Bagent. While Brzenk is featured on the cover, the film is ultimately about the two younger men trying to bring the living legend down and take the crown for themselves, and all three have different reasons for their delving into this sport. For Brzenk (an airline mechanic), it's good to be the King. The Russian Voyevoda plays the role of a humble warrior, arm wrestling because he believes he's meant to. In Brzenk he sees a hero, and he wants a shot at the title. Young Travis competes for the glory. He wants the crown but even more than that, he wants to be the man to take down the all mighty Brzenk.
PULLING JOHN dedicates equal time to each competitor, giving us a look into their very different lives while focusing on the competitive drama between all three arm wrasslers, but never loses its focus. No one is focused on for too long, and the intensity of the matches that are edited into the film offer an valued constrast to the more personal backstory moments. Brzenk travels to Japan (where he's a rock star) for an exhibition match with local wrasslers who all revere the Illinoisan as legend, while The Russian and The Young Gun go head to head in a tournament back in the States. The Young Gun pulls away with the victory (despite being intimidated by The Hulk himself before the match), and The Russian, disgusted with the winning antics of The Young Gun (hooting and hollering and fist pumping) heads back home to refocus and train. Though The Young Gun has victory in his mitts, he states he won't be happy until he "pulls" John Brzenk himself. "To be the best, you have to beat the best." I've never heard that before. Does he get his wish? The film culminates in a tournament held in Warsaw, Poland where The Champ, The Russian, and The Young Gun, find themselves in the same place at the same time, which hadn't happened until just then. Though The Russian and Young Gun compete in the Super Heavyweight division, Brzenk MUST win the Light Heavyweight division in order to take on the bigger guys.
PULLING JOHN, while unfortunately not being a film about handjobs, is a solid and swift 72 minute documentary with the action and drama of its cinematic counterpart OVER THE TOP (minus the whiny little bitch kid). John Brzenk has a cameo in the film.
|Extra Tidbit:||The term "pulling" in the circuit means to beat your opponent. You're literally pulling their arm to the table in victory. I don't know where "pulling your leg" came from. Get over it.|