Welcome to “Ringside Review!” Leading on from our review of Mick Foley’s “Have A Nice Day” last week, this week we’ll be looking at a film to which Foley is closely associated with, so we’ll be taking a look at “Beyond The Mat” directed by Barry Blaustein.
The film follows the stories of Mick Foley in the WWF, Terry Funk in ECW and Jake “The Snake” Roberts who was wrestling on independent shows throughout America. It also drops in and shows the inner workings of ECW and WWF.
We also see guys who are usually not shown on screen at work. Jim Johnson (the man responsible for the vast majority of wrestler’s themes) is shown at work, where he briefly explains how he comes up with a tune. He gives the example of Vader’s theme and why it was designed to be the way it was. There’s also interviews with Jim Ross, who discusses his opinions on a few topics throughout the film, as well as himself and Jim Cornette evaluating talent when Blaumstein manages to get trials for Tony Jones and Mike Modest.
The first main figure of focus is Terry Funk. We are introduced to him just before ECW’s first PPV where he went on to win the ECW World Title. Just before the event, the cameras follow Funk to the doctor’s where he’s having a check-up. He’s told that one of his knee’s need to be replaced as soon as possible and that the other one was suffering from moderate to chronic arthritis. Funk, disliking the Doctor’s prognosis, went to the event because he gave Paul Heyman his word that he would help the promotion get off the ground. The film goes through to Funk’s first retirement, which lasted a staggering total of three months. We’re also treated to Paul Heyman’s speech to the ECW roster before their first PPV, which shows exactly why guys were willing to kill themselves and work for so little money at the promotion.
Away from the ring Funk is shown to be a normal guy. We first see him at his daughter’s wedding giving her away and leading a prayer. We also see interviews from his family who give their opinion on his continued duration but also share their concerns for him well being with his resistance to easing off into retirement.
From Terry Funk to we slide to the second main focus of the film. Terry Funk’s spiritual brother in Mick Foley. I say this because we’re talking about two guys who have mutilated each other all over the world yet enjoy a healthy respect and friendship with one and other.
Foley’s career is joined while he’s Mankind in WWF. The film follows him through Hell In A Cell, where the director receives a call from Foley where he’s incoherent and rambling after the match. It goes through to him losing the title against the Rock in the “I Quit” match at the Royal Rumble. While the match is remembered for really showing how ruthless the match can be, it’s also harrowing to see the other side of professional wrestling and the effect that it can have on the wrestler’s loved ones.
Outside of the ring, we see that Foley is pretty much a normal guy. His homelife is stable, he has a loving wife: he adores his kids and takes them to Disneyland like a somewhat stereotypical middle class American family. There’s a strange moment where Mick asks his father if he can wrestle with his kids in the basement which is followed by an interview where Mick’s father talks about his son on camera while sitting next to him.
In a complete contrast to Mick we reach the third main focus of the film: Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Jake is possibly the complete polar opposite of Foley. We’re talking about a guy who’s turned into the quintessential wrestling tragedy. A personal history and family that makes Randy the Ram from Darren Aronofsky’s film “The Wrestler” look like a successful transition from wrestling to retirement. I don’t want to give away anything, but respect should go to Jake for his honesty and the candour that he brought to the film, especially in allowing the film-makers access to a meeting that he had with his daughter which can only be described as heart-breaking.
There’s also more than a few cameos of note. Vince Russo (or, as some prefer to call him, Satan) appears, as does Darren “Droz” Drozdov who is shown in his initial meeting with the WWF supremo Vince McMahon, who requests to see Drozdov’s ability to “Puke” on demand. Tragically, Droz would go on to suffer almost total paralysis in a horrible accident during a match with D’Lo Brown. Vince also delivers an aside that was proven to almost be prophetic: “We’ll make movies.” Chyna also appears, delivering a line which I feel that I have to include in the article purely for my own amusement :“When my Mom saw me lifting weights, she thought I was a lesbian.” I’m glad that’s definitely been cleared up in the fullness of time.
My overall impressions of the film? It documents the reality of life in the ring and the costs the guys pay for putting on a show as well as the normality that most of the guys have outside the ring. It makes me glad that hardcore wrestling is dead. I can’t watch some of what those guys were doing. Diving from ledges onto unprotected stairs and the likes is something which is insane and I’m glad by and large that the vast majority of promotions have moved away from it.
The film is a fantastic fly on the wall documentary that paints a picture and a monument to professional wrestling of how it was in the mid to late 1990s.
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