Despite the upside of pro wrestling-being on worldwide TV and having people from ages 6 to 60 buy a shirt with your face on it, and cheer (or boo) you in the ring until they become hoarse, there is still a downside. A wrestler can be on the road for 250 days out of the year. The pay is comfortable, but there is the risk of injury, or worse, addictions to drugs to overcome the pain you can suffer from while on the road. And unlike John Q. Businessman, a lot of the wrestlers out there either don’t ha…e a health or pension plan, or can’t even afford either or both to begin with. Numerous wrestlers over the years have been incapacitated from the life, and at least that many have committed suicide, including several well known (to fans) wrestlers in the recent months. The upside can be great though, and a wrestler’s character can have a lasting impact on the public, long enough to maybe make them lifelong fans. I’m still watching it, off and on for (damn!) 20 years, and Barry Blaustein has the same identification with it, and uses it to help focus on several different people who have, and are, making their livelihood in the business, in Beyond the Mat.
Blaustein is no slouch when it comes to film; he’s contributed screenplays for the Nutty Professor films, and Brian Grazer and Ron Howard (yes, THAT Ron Howard) were producers of it. Blaustein’s main focus here is on three men in various points of the stardom arc. Terry Funk has wrestled for 30 years, and as a man giving his daughter away at her wedding, is a man in his late 50s who can barely walk, due to the decades of wear on his knees. His is calling it quits now with a couple of farewell matches, and yet to the chagrin of his family, the spotlight still calls him back every so often. Mick Foley is in the midst of a career resurgence, after subjecting his body to the rigors of a career half the length of Funk’s, but has also endured numerous injuries, including an almost nonexistent ear. Jake Roberts was one of the most influential and charismatic men in the industry at one point, but drugs and inconsistency have driven him to working shows of several hundred in halls of the Midwest.
The stories they tell are compelling, as you hear about Roberts’ family problems growing up, and the praise that figures in the business now still heap on him, despite his reputation. There is a reunion with his daughter, who is in college, but the awkwardness of the situation is captured so well it’s easy to see some of the depressing underside of being a wrestler, and missing time that would normally go to whatever family you were attempting to raise. Foley is the star, for lack of a better word, in the film. Despite missing most of his ear, being thrown 25 feet onto a table, or thrown into some barbed wire before falling down onto a charge of C4, Foley remains devoted to the business, and more importantly, his wife and two young children. Late in the film, Foley is brutalized during a match where he is hit in the head numerous times with a chair while wearing handcuffs, all while his family is in the front row. Afterward, he’s in the hall walking towards the dressing room, his face covered in blood, while his daughter asks if he’s OK. He later sees the knot on his head, and a 1 inch long gash in his head that remind him of the price he paid in the sport.
Mick did retire recently, and while he does make occasional appearances for Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment company, he has gone on to write several books, and his autobiography made the New York Times’ Bestseller list. It’s an engaging book, and worth reading. The documentary included is billed as “The Version Vince McMahon Doesn’t Want You to See!,” and from seeing the film in theaters to picking up the DVD, there wasn’t a noticeable change in the film, aside from brief stories from former workers in Vince’s company. The movie paints an effective portrait as to the grind that a professional wrestler endures, and despite the subject of the film, even those who detest “rasslin’” should watch Beyond The Mat for the stories told in the film.
As is the case with most documentaries, everything is pretty much done either with handheld cameras, also including footage from event TV shows and pay-per-views, so the decision was made to keep things at the full frame presentation. It’s as gritty as you’d expect. Granted, the fact that it’s on film is a bit of a surprise, but it’s nothing earthshaking.
The audio is 2.0 Dolby Surround only, again, because it’s pretty much interview footage and TV broadcasts, there isn’t a big sonic experience to be had.
There are some pretty good commentaries that are the main extra. The first is with Blaustein, and he talks of how the project came together and the time involved in putting things together. He credits Funk for helping him through the project, and wrestlers who’d heard about it were more prone to open up to him once he’d received Funk’s seal of approval. There is enough wrestling 101 information (for the layman) so that no one really gets left behind, and what’s happened to some of the people in the film since it’s release. It’s a pretty good commentary. Funk joins Blaustein for a separate commentary, and he is jovial, talking about the state of the business, how he broke into it and what it was like for him as well. Blaustein does well to provide a question and Terry can expand on and provide informed opinion to, as he’s been in the business for almost 40 of his nearly 60 years. Things start to change dramatically when the footage of Foley’s match where he’s handcuffed, and the picture of Foley, covered in blood, getting cleaned up is priceless. Funk says what everyone is thinking, including a lot of the workers: “What the hell did I do to myself?” It’s well worth listening to just to hear how the business ran, and how he looks at things today. Foley provides a third track, however it’s screen-specific to his time in the film, and runs for about a half hour. It’s pretty constant, with some funny moments, and he reflects on the match and his career now, and still has some bad feelings for his opponents in the match, who didn’t come to check on Foley after the match ended, something that bothers Foley to this day. For its short time it’s somewhat disappointing, but fun to listen to anyway. The trailer, 7 pages of production notes and filmmaker and cast bios are the only other extras in the package.
Rasslin’ may be fake, but the stories, drama and pain that some of the people in Beyond the Mat experience are very real, and make for a documentary that film fans will be surprised by. Fans of the business should buy this both for the film and the commentaries included. And no matter what the movie, if there’s an unrated version out there, get it. There’s a reason why it’s unrated!
Special Features List
- Director/Participant Commentary
- Production Notes
- Cast Biographies