Directed by Barry W. Blaustein
Running Time: 1:42
Rated R

Before we get started, let me say upfront that I am a wrestling fan. Yes, I am one of the millions (long sniff) and millions of the Rock's fans. I do think Triple H is The Game. I am a Jerichoholic. And I would rather be in Chyna. Every week I watch anywhere from 4 to 12 hours of wrestling. I read Scoops Wrestling at least 3 times a day. My friends think I'm a little wierd. Phil Mushnick thinks I must be an idiot (for the record Phil, I'm not from Alabama, I do have all my teeth, I do not plan on marrying my sister and I do not live in a trailer. I am in fact a law school graduate and film producer, living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in a small overly expensive apartment, and while my luck with the ladies isn't all there, I still don't plan on marrying my sister). I love wrestling. I love the pagentry and the spectacle of it all. No, I don't believe that it's all real, just like I'm sure most people don't believe that someone tried to blow up an apartment complex on Melrose Place every year. I realize that the outcomes of matches are scripted. I also realize that the guys and girls you see on TV every week are trained athletes, and nothing should ever take away from that. And as the documentary Beyond the Mat shows, these are all real people, just like you and me.

Director Barry Blaustein is another wrestling fan and film guy, he was just able to do something I've always dreamed about, and that was to take a backstage look at the lives of professional wrestlers. For the most part, Blaustein follows the exploits of three wrestlers: Terry Funk, Mick "Mankind, Dude Love, Cactus Jack" Foley, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Blaustein takes us behind the scenes of the WWF and ECW (interestingly, no mentions of WCW), he takes us into offices of the men in charge, into the gymnasiums where some of these wrestlers got their start, and into their home and family lives. I really enjoyed the looks backstage at the various arenas. Seeing Jim Ross feeding lines to the on-air announcers at a Pay-Per-View event. Watching the wrestlers get together to plan parts of their matches. Seeing how the wrestlers interact with each other before and after matches. Some of the footage I've seen before. Mick Foley's famous Hell in a Cell match with the Undertaker is shown a few times, but not just for shock value, but to show the effect it has on his family. Mick getting hit over the head with a chair by The Rock over and over again, right in front of his wife and two young kids. I watched that match when it first aired on PPV, and I cheered right along with the fans in attendance, but to Mick's wife and kids, it was horrifying. How easy is it to explain to a little girl that her father who is covered in blood is OK, and that it was all just for fun? These are the kinds of things your typical fan doesn't see and doesn't know about. Terry Funk by all rights shouldn't even be able to walk with all the damage to his knees, but he's out there, middle aged and crazy, and still wrestling. Jake the Snake has the saddest life of them all. Mother raped at 13 years of age. Sister kidnapped and murdered. Step-father electrocuted. And on top of all that, Jake has a daughter he rarely ever sees, and a crack addiction he can't control.

Beyond the Mat is more than just a "wrestling" documentary. It's a documentary about the human condition. Most people see wrestlers as just another circus sideshow act. A bunch of steroid-freaked guys in tight shorts beating each other every week. But Blaustein is able to show that outside of the ring, these guys are just guys. They found something they like, and something they're good at, something they love, and something that helps to support their family. Sadly, I don't think people who aren't already fans of wrestling are going to go out and see this, and that's a shame. True there is some wrestling footage shown, but for the most part, wrestling isn't the theme. Wrestlers are. I will admit there are times when I thought the documentary dragged a little bit. I thought the scenes with Jake the Snake and his daughter were a bit over the top. It seemed to me like the daughter was more interested in coming off good on camera than actually dealing with her father. I did really enjoy the part when Mick Foley was getting beaten in front of his kids, and Blaustein chose to play "Stand By Me" in the background. Kind of had the feel of the scene in Face/Off when they played "What a Wonderful World" while there was a huge gunfight going on. I also wish that Blaustein had chosen to spotlight some of the more popular wrestlers of today, like Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock. I realize that at the time he was shooting all his footage, knowing who would be popular today would have been somewhat difficult, but someone like Stone Cold was pretty popular at the time of the infamous I Quit! match, and I think from a selling standpoint, having someone like him being featured more prominently would have helped.

Overall I thought Beyond the Mat was a very entertaining and thoughtful look at wrestlers. I think that even people who aren't wrestling fans would enjoy this documentary because it deals more with people than with wrestling. But if you are a wrestling fan, this is definitely something you don't want to miss.

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Reviewed 03/30/00

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