Beyond the Mat
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that like the WWF shows, this movie is violent and profane. Unlike the WWF shows, this is the truth, and scenes showing Jake with his estranged father and daughter and Mick's wife and children horrified by a fight may be far more upsetting than the fights themselves.
What's the story?
In BEYOND THE MAT, writer-director Barry Blaustein asks, "What sort of man bashes another man's head into a ring post for a living?" And then he goes on the road to provide the answer. He begins with Vince McMahon, the fourth generation in his family to own the World Wrestling Foundation. Viewers see McMahon working with a former Denver Bronco, whose ability to throw up on demand leads to the creation of a new "character" to be added to the WWF. Just as Norma Jeane Baker became Marilyn Monroe, Darren Drosnov becomes "Puke." And viewers see a would-be wrestling superstar protesting to a director/coreographer, "That WAS my strut!" Blaustein takes viewers to a training school for would-be WWF stars, where part-time wrestlers who make $25 a fight and live over the gym dream of getting their big chance. Even the superstars have dreams. Jesse "The Body" Ventura leaves pro wrestling for a successful run for the governor of Minnesota. He says, "Politics is way more cutthroat than wrestling." And a black wrestler called "New Jack," who claims four justifiable homicides, tries out for "Denzel's pal" in Hollywood. Terry Funk just dreams of being able to stay in the game as an unsuccessful wrestler says, "I'd rather be in the main event than breathe." But Mick dreams of a way out that will make it possible for him to take care of his family.
Is it any good?
This is the best documentary since "Hoop Dreams," and it is not a coincidence that it, too, is about sports. That means that it is about money, ambition, competition, dreams realized and dashed, race, money, families -- both functional and dys -- integrity, money, corruption, rookies, veterans, money, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. And, did I mention money? In other words, it is about America.
If it had been fiction, we would dismiss it as a cliché. It has all the stock characters, from the young wrestlers with dreams, trying to break into the big time to the old-timers, families begging them to quit, who just can't walk away. And it has all the stock situations as the characters test themselves over and over, giving their heart and often many other parts of their body to see how far they can go, competing with each other and with themselves. And it's a story, as the narrator tells us, of "pageantry, athleticism, incredibly cheesy acting," of "strong men taking matters into their own hands," of guys who live to make people say, "I can't believe they did that!" -- of professional wrestling. It turns out that "it's not as fake as you think." The outcomes may be set in advance, but the blood is real.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about the enduring appeal of a violent sport and about the ways that the wrestlers do and don't communicate with their families. After all, even "Puke's" first reaction on being hired by the WWF is to call his mom to tell her how proud she will be.