Starring: Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, Terry Funk, Vince McMahon
“My mother was 13 years old when I was born. Why? Because my dad raped a little girl that was in a room asleep. My dad was going out with my mother’s mother. There you go. There’s some bones for Jake the Snake.” (Jake Roberts, Beyond The Mat)
I know professional wrestling isn’t “real” – I know the results are predetermined, I know the storylines are set months in advance and I know winning a championship belt is nothing more than a backstage reward for your in-ring ability and the way you connect with the crowd. So does Barry Blaustein, the documentary filmmaker who spent a few years making Beyond The Mat. But that doesn’t mean the athletes involved (and they are athletes – they might have already picked a winner but it still hurts) don’t often go through both physical and mental hell to bring an entertaining show to the public. This film aims to expose that torment.
Shot during the Attitude era of the WWF (as it was back then), Beyond The Mat introduces and follows a bunch of different wrestlers at various stages in their career. There’s Darren Drozdov, a new signing at the WWF ready to make his big break. There’s Tony Jones and Mike Modest, two wannabe superstars who train at a small wrestling school and want a shot at fighting with a big company. There’s Terry Funk, a legend ready to hang up his boots, and Mick Foley, a legend-in-the-making at the top of his game as Mankind (the film was filmed before and during his famous Hell In A Cell falls). There’s the people behind ECW, the upstart organisation looking to take on the big dogs of the WWF and WCW. And finally there’s Jake “The Snake” Roberts, a one-time superstar fallen on hard times.
It’s Roberts’ story that’s perhaps the most harrowing, especially to people my age (late 20s) who grew up idolising him. At his height in the WWE, Jake The Snake was a cold, calculating master of intimidation – he was the ultimate bad guy and even though you booed him when he came to the ring, deep down you loved watching him on TV. Nowadays he’s a crack addict wrestling in two-bit hick towns, struggling to maintain relationships with his father (no wonder, considering how he was conceived) and his estranged daughter. His tales of having sex on the road, with “two at a time, then three at a time, then two at a time with toys, then two at a time and I’ll just watch” would sound like typical rock ‘n’ roll behaviour coming from the Rolling Stones or Russell Brand, but Roberts puts it into perspective by adding: “When you come home and try to make love to your wife, ain’t no way. Ain’t no way.”
On a more positive note, the WWF footage is interesting to see. The story goes that Vince McMahon originally give full permission for Blaustein to film backstage and interview his stars, but when he saw what people were saying about him he tried to get the film banned. What ultimately happened was the release of two versions of the film – a Theatrical Cut which doesn’t really make too many contentious statements (except for a rant in which Jake Roberts mentions McMahon) and a Director’s Cut which contains all the anti-Vince comments McMahon wanted to remove. Having seen the Theatrical Cut plenty of times in the past and the Director’s Cut only recently (for the purposes of this review), the latter certainly changes the mood of the film and as such it’s the Director’s Cut that I recommend you hunt down if possible.
Beyond The Mat is an illuminating look at the world of professional wrestling and the people who make it happen. It’ll surprise you, it’ll anger you, it’ll depress you and it’ll make you realise that while the results are pre-determined, there’s nothing fake about the struggles these guys face. And if nothing else, you’ll come out of it thinking “that Mick Foley looks like a bloody lovely chap”.
HOW CAN I SEE IT?
There’s only one version of Beyond The Mat on DVD in the UK, which I believe is the standard Theatrical Cut. You can get it fairly cheaply here. In the US the Theatrical Cut is out of print but you can get the Director’s Cut here.
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