This week I’ll be looking at the classic quintessential wrestling documentary: Beyond The Mat. I’m sure you’ve all heard of it. I’m sure a lot of you have seen it. I have many times. I sat down with a pen and paper and gave it a real going over, and here are my thoughts.
The first thing you notice is that it’s not like other wrestling films. It’s not WWE created for one. It’s also not low budget and independent. It’s a legitimate full length feature film, more in the mould of Bowling For Columbine than a regular wrestling movie. It grossed £2m in the box office (4x it’s budget) and received/was nominated for various awards at small film festivals. The movie wasn’t a success with a lot of mainstream critics, but that’s because it doesn’t condemn Vince McMahon, pro wrestling or any wrestler as being a psychopathic, evil force.
The film gives you a real true insight into the world of the WWF during it’s hottest period: The Attitude Era. This must have been down to an extraordinary level of cooperation from McMahon. The freedom with which Barry W. Blaustein is allowed to tell this story makes for captivating viewing, and let me tell you, it’s bum bags (fanny packs, for you Yankees) galore!
But it isn’t all about the big league guys. You get a good look at a small independent promotion and in particular, a couple of their up and coming stars. The boys go for a try-out with Vince and wrestle each other on the opening match of a Raw card, which I imagine must have been dark. They do pretty well, and seem to impress the host of creative talent watching backstage. What talent do I speak of? Jim Cornette, Vince McMahon and Jim Ross all watching their match – probably the three best minds in the business, in my opinion. That was cool to see.
It was also cool to see the ever modest Mick Foley (my hero) being supportive of the guys after their try-out. Now there is a man who knows what it’s like to be random enhancement on a TV show. At least these guys weren’t being fed to Ryback like today’s locals, or doing squash matches against The Bulldogs like “Jack” Foley once did. On one such occasion, he was clotheslined so hard by Dynamite Kid that he couldn’t eat solid food for several weeks, or so the story goes.
The film mainly centres around three people and their separate, yet often parallel paths through life as a professional wrestler: the aforementioned Mick Foley, the living legend Terry Funk, and the misunderstood Jake “The Snake” Roberts. All three of these guys bring a certain hard hitting, challenging aspect to the movie, but some of their tales are more tragic than others.
Terry Funk was well past his best by this point, but was volunteering his services to help get ECW off the ground. By wrestling on their first ever pay-per-view, he helped put them on the map. He continues to give it his all, leaving parts of his anatomy, his sanity and his future on the line working for them during this film. The real story with this though is, when would Terry get out of the business, for the sake of himself and his family? Now we know that he went on to “retire” about a dozen times after, but when this came out, he genuinely seemed to be having his swansong. A final match against Bret Hart would be his last, as part of some kind of WWF/ECW agreement they must have had. “The Funker” plays a big role in this film, that’s for sure, and he’s one of the greatest!
My favourite wrestler of all time – Mick Foley – also plays a central role. A lot of his input centres around the famous “I Quit” Match with The Rock, when in my opinion, his opponent overstepped the mark and hit him with far too many chair shots to the skull. Some would argue that it was those extra shots that made the match so memorable, but I think it went past the point of what was necessary. Knowing Mick as the best selling author and incredibly articulate ambassador for the business that he is today, it’s quite shocking to hear a recorded answer-phone message that he left for Barry, in which he sounds like Scott Hall at his most damaged and incoherent.
You get a real analysis into the career of Foley, and a real prophecy about his future. It’s easier to watch this now, knowing that he did stop doing all the crazy spots early enough, he did get out of the business full time, and he has happily raised what seems to be a great family. Seeing his little daughter crying during that match at ringside was hard, but I just had to remember seeing how normal she was on his DVD that came out recently to see that everything worked out alright in the end for him and for her, it seems.
Jake Roberts is probably the most haunting and most memorable subject. His chilling, depressing fall from grace is enough to make you want to stay inside the house forever. You get to see right inside his struggle with demons. His family issues, his daughter, his drug and alcohol abuse. It gets said so often, but it’s another thing that reminded me of The Wrestler. This guy is that character! Like Foley though, knowing he is now (along with Scott Hall) doing extremely well and working hard to put his life and body back together, makes this all a whole lot easier to watch.
Those three main protagonists are separated by a scattering of introductions to some other familiar faces. We got to see the not-well-documented femininity of Chyna, New Jack go to a casting audition, and Droz throw up into a bin on Vince’s command in a board meeting. These sensational and sometimes heart warming stories were topped, for me, by Vince checking if Mick was okay, while having some stitches put in his own head, after a brutal match – another example of why he is the best promoter of all time. He isn’t afraid to put himself through pain or humiliation for the sake of making money. Before anyone else has a go at him, they should ask when the last time Eric Bischoff, Vince Russo, Dixie Carter or any of those other fools had bloodbath matches with Stone Cold.
The film doesn’t glorify Vince, his product or the industry itself, but it doesn’t just bury it. That’s probably why critics from mainstream publications and news networks tried to shit on this movie. It’s real, it’s honest and it’s balanced. It reminds me of why I loved the Attitude Era, why I still and always will love the business, and why Vince McMahon is still probably the first person I would meet if I could pick anyone. It did all that, but it reminded me of the pitfalls, the tragedies, and the problems. On the whole, it entertained me.
Thanks for reading, and check out the movie!