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This documentary focuses on the lives of professional wrestlers Terry Funk, Mick Foley (Mankind), Jake Roberts (Jake the Snake) and Darren Drozdov (Droz). As the film progresses, the story of their lives unfolds, as we also learn how the wrestling industry is not the plastic-weapons fake-slap sideshow that many have perceived it as. We are shown how moves, although not actually injuring anyone, are not fake, and extreme training is required to be able to perform the stunts without being harmed. We are also treated to interviews with the family of Mick Foley and what it is like for them to know their father literally puts his life on the line every week and how it feels to have other children call their father a "fake". Vince McMahon, owner of World Wrestling Entertainment, also makes a few appearances, responding to criticism on various wrestling situations, including, once again, his real athletes, very real organization being called fake by sources such as USA Today and various news... Written by
Former WWF mid card wrestler Koko B. Ware is briefly featured in the movie. In his scene he speaks about letting his trademark mascot, a bird named Franke "Fly Away". Sadly, three years after the completion of this film, Frankie the bird perished when the apartment building Koko was living in burnt to the ground. See more »
[after auditioning for a movie role]
Maybe I'll be the next Denzel.
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Closing dedication: This film is dedicated to my wife, Lorrie and our children, Kasey and Corey, who have stood by patiently with love and support as I blabbed about wrestling for the last five years. See more »
Hard-hitting documentary that has been overtaken by events - 79%
I had first seen this many years ago at the start of my interest in professional wrestling. Not that I'm a fan, you understand, but more a casual viewer. I don't wear the T-shirts, I don't follow faded stars as they wring the last bit of cash out from their stay in the spotlight and I don't believe for a minute that it is real. The competitors know who'll win, the complex moves and counters are rehearsed or discussed prior to the match and the story lines are as scripted as a Nativity play. People like Mick Foley (who appears in "Beyond The Mat") openly speak about the mechanics of "sports-entertainment" and the current trend of being honest with the fans (at least, within the WWE) could have been prompted by Barry Blaustein's warts-and-all documentary on a strange and often unfathomable industry.
Screenwriter Blaustein admits in the opening reel to being a closet wrestling fan (and no, that's not pile-driving your opponent in their bedroom) and this film documents his attempt at getting to know what sort of people put themselves deliberately into harm's way. Are they falling stars from another era like Terry Funk who are desperate to preserve some noble art, despite increasing physical fragility and age? Are they products of a disturbed upbringing like Jake "The Snake" Roberts, wrestling with inner demons as well as a 230lb amateur in front of small crowds? Or are they family men like Foley, who want the best for his wife and kids but don't mind how much grief they give them when they see him smashed in the head with a steel chair?
In truth, it's hard to say. None of the three featured wrestlers provide any answers and often provide uncomfortable viewing. Roberts, in particular, comes across as an disturbed individual, openly admitting drug addiction and a warped family life that the best soap operas could only dream of. At least you have sympathy for Funk and Foley, both of whom clearly love the business that they are in even if the toll on their own families is a little harsh. Travelling from city to city and performing many times a week damages more than just your body. It can alienate you from those you love until in the end, like Roberts, you can hardly identify with them at all. Even Foley, committed a family man as he is, was shocked to see his wife and kids' reaction to his losing title defence to the Rock (who now, of course, is a movie star of his own).
"Beyond The Mat" is essential viewing for anyone with a passing interest in professional wrestling. Though it doesn't answer the questions you may have, it certainly deserves a huge amount of credit for being able to cut through the smoke and mirrors and show the dark side of an industry illuminated with razzmatazz and pyrotechnics. It is still a shock to see the WWF (as it was known then) owner Vince McMahon chatting away honestly and openly in a normal voice, as opposed to his usual deep-and-low growl of his and even he now participates as a in-ring competitor. We're left to make the conclusions ourselves and the biggest problem with the film, besides the lack of an obvious climax, is the speed at which it becomes out of date. Time moves very quickly in the WWE and in the few short years since the release of "Beyond The Mat", the WWF has changed its name and image and rendered the film obsolete. Whether this is by design, only Vince knows but Blaustein has made a film that is an excellent documentary in its own right but one that will surely only appeal to wrestling fans.
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