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"Beyond the Mat"

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The professional wrestlers in Barry Blaustein's documentary Beyond the Mat are a race of men who speak louder than the rest of us. It's as if they all carry around in their larynxes their own built-in amplification system. Even though the film is billed as a look into the wrestlers' lives outside the ring, it's often difficult to separate out the real person from the act. The best of the camera subjects, such as aging vet Terry Funk, or Jake the Snake Roberts, have a carny charisma that works on both sides of the ropes. Blaustein, who was a supervising producer for Saturday Night Live and has co-written a bunch of Eddie Murphy movies, is drawn not only to the wrestling circuit's circuslike nuttiness but also to its sob-story undercurrents. Watching the once-stellar Jake the Snake down on his luck in some fourth-rate venue, we're prompted to recall Requiem for a Heavyweight, and when he recounts his sordid family past, or is shown failing to connect with his estranged daughter, he's the living embodiment of every country-western lament you've ever listened to. The wrestlers are cannier than Blaustein probably gives them credit for; they seem to be offering up their backstage lives to him in ways that mimic the soppiest of melodramas, and he falls for it. Mick "Mankind" Foley, for example, who wears a Hannibal Lecter-ish mask in the ring and seems to lack a central nervous system, troops out his adoring wife and two giggly children for the cameras at every opportunity. The most disturbing moment in the film comes when his family is shown at ringside, his two children cringing, as he gets smashed up by The Rock. Some of the blood may be fake, but the pain on his kids' faces is entirely real, and even though Foley himself later cringes at the sight of their terror as he watches their reactions on a video playback, the question is left unanswered: Why did he allow them ringside in the first place? In moments like these, Beyond the Mat is beyond the pale.


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