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Beyond the Mat

The documentary is one of many film genres I particularly enjoy, though sadly, and this can be said about movies in general, I don’t get to see as many as I’d like due to a self-proclaimed “busy” lifestyle. Luckily a friend stopped me in my tracks and we watched one of his favorite documentaries, Beyond the Mat, which I thoroughly enjoyed even though at first glance I didn’t think it would pique my interest.

Barry W. Blaustein is credited as the director, writer, and narrator of Beyond the Mat, which examines the lives of pro wrestlers and what makes them tick. Blaustein from the get go explains his mission statement: What kind of person would willingly step into a ring and experience the violence of the World Wrestling Federation, or any wrestling group for that matter? Subjects of the documentary include Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Mick Foley, and a ragtag group of hopefuls looking to fashion themselves a career.

As I said before, I was hesitant about popping in a film about wrestling, as I’ve never found myself absorbed in the subject, much less what happens behind the scenes. But Beyond the Mat reaffirmed what I think we all know about the magic of the doc genre: Documentaries can literally be about anything and be compelling because of the people the subject involves. Spelling bees? You might think they’re inherently boring, but Spellbound proved those kids had great stories to tell. Then there’s Word Wars, which follows Scrabble players, and in the future we’ll have one about the history of The New York Time’s crossword puzzle. But I’m rambling. Let’s talk wrestling.

The overall point of Blaustein’s film is that a wrestler can truly be anyone when you take away the costumes, the scripts, and choreography. And they’re all fascinating to watch, from Foley, who is a dedicated father dealing with the problem of how to explain his career to the kids, to Roberts, a man whose life is so troubled he can barely sustain any relationship with his daughter. These are extremely compelling elements of the film, and I was touched by what the men had to say about their experiences. I was glued to the screen during the footage of Roberts stoically doing chores with the father who barely speaks to him, and when Foley’s children wailed at the sight of him being pounded by The Rock it was the stuff of pure drama.

Aside from the personal stories are the underdog tales, such as that concerning trainers at a seedy manager’s wrestling school. There’s also the oddly funny chronicling of Puke, whose gimmick of vomiting on other wrestlers lands him a position in the WWF. These sequences could be considered padding to the much more fleshed out profiles of Foley and Roberts, and they probably could have been cut out to make the film tighter and more cohesive. But they are nice detours nonetheless, and I didn’t dislike them in the end. Besides, when you have Vince McMahon being interviewed, followed by his screaming at some dope to puke in a trash can on cue, there’s really nothing better on a pure cheese level.

If you’re like me and need to exhaust the documentary world of all its resources, then Beyond the Mat will certainly be up your alley. And while you’re at it, have you seen Grizzly Man, Tying the Knot, or Capturing the Friedmans? If not, why not? Get a new perspective on society with all of these films, darnit, or I may just have to revoke your official Moviegoer License. … Man, what a silly way to end a review. Am I right?

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