25/02/2017

Beyond The Mat - The Profession Of Childhood

Quick Thoughts: Beyond The Mat (1999)

Just what it says on the box: an insight beyond the mat and ring of professional wrestling entertainment.


In the previous post, we looked at documentary, performance, actuality and questions of truth. The takeaway from delving into The Act Of Killing and Waltz With Bashir was that documentaries can hold significant power when they embrace their artifice and the performance of their subjects. In thinking about this subject, I gravitated towards a film I've seen before and a representative of a huge part of my childhood: Beyond The Mat and wrestling entertainment.

Growing up, wrestling a la the WWF was the only 'sport' I knew or would pay attention to. I never watched football, basketball, cricket, baseball, rugby, boxing, tennis - I always liked athletics and the Olympics - but, wrestling was it really until a few years ago when MMA caught my eye. And, to me, Beyond The Mat perfectly captures the draw of wrestling as entertainment as, whilst MMA can be considered the most base and primal of sports, wrestling is the entertainment equivalent. The draw of the WWF to a kid is then a mere extension of wrestling with friends, brothers or other family members. Whilst movies were the adult and professional projection of most games you'd play and imaginings you'd have, wrestling was the professional and 'adult' replication of play fighting. And Beyond The Mat makes a subtle commentary on this foundation - especially in the Mick Foley sequence.


I remember watching this match time and time again on video with my uncle, and, in initially seeing behind the scenes of this however many years ago, I was left shocked after recognising what Foley puts his body through. Whilst it's easy to be drawn to the gore and thrill of his pain-seeking masochism and get a sense of "Oh, he's actually in pain; bleeding; writhing", this is usually very intermittent. That is to say, the slight empathising with his pain is part of the match, but not much more; you forget about it quick. But, it's watching Beyond The Mat that you get a sense of the longevity of this pain, not just a few hours after the match as he's in hospital, but years down the line as veteran wrestlers face chronic knee injuries and a plethora of other torturous pain. And this is something picked up on excellently in The Wrestler - a film you get a strong sense was inspired by this documentary and many alike.

When re-watching Beyond The Mat, however, that wasn't the primary take away for me. Instead of the lasting pain and torment being the insight given into the lives of these wrestlers and the structure of the organisations, it was the motivation of these figures that really stuck out to me. It's despite the pain experienced, past, present and future, that these guys perform. And whilst I know I'll never really be able to grip just what it means to feel that incentive, thinking back to myself consuming hours of wrestling does help to contextualise what maybe goes through these guys' heads. As a child, I was seemingly drawn to the apparent profession of remaining a kid that all of these people were in. They all make money, sometimes $25, sometimes millions upon millions, just for play fighting. They take it up dozens of notches above what any 6-year-old is capable of, but there is still that 6-year-old's drive. This appeared as an interesting perspective to take on the masks, costumes, lights, music, terrible acting and stomp-punching, but also a wider idea of art, Hollywood and entertainment - one I'll leave as an open observation.

So, what are your thoughts? Where you ever into wrestling? Are you this guy...


And have you seen this film?






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