A few LEOGs ago Cyrus and the guys were discussing upcoming films for the fall season. While I didn’t expect them to mention every film that was coming out, one that I felt was conspicuous by its absence was Darren Aronofsky’s latest, ‘The Wrestler.’ I just found the exclusion unusual because by the time this particular LEOG aired, the film, as well as Mickey Rourke’s performance, had received positive reviews as well as winning best picture at the Venice Film Festival.
In addition, over the course of the past few LEOGs I’ve heard the guys make a couple negative comments about professional wrestling that I, as a wrestling fan, took some issue with. It wasn’t anything particularly bad, just stuff along the lines of, “The only ones who would like this comic/movie are the same kind of people who like wrestling.”
Now to be clear, I’m not trying to pick a fight or blast anybody for not liking wrestling. I don’t like all the same comics and movies that everyone else does and I don’t expect them to like all the things I do.
I mean after all, why would comic book fans want anything to do with make believe fighting between grown men and women in tights.
I made that comparison because comic books and professional wrestling do in fact share a lot in common, in that they are both forms of storytelling. Both feature epic showdowns between larger than life characters, and every big match in wrestling has a storyline building towards it just like any mini-series or ‘event’ comic builds toward a conclusion, and every great match is a story within itself.
Now that I think about it, wrestling also suffers from disregard for continuity from time to time, nothing on the level of ‘Brand New Day,’ but noticeable contradictions if you do your research.
In fact, one could probably write a whole blog just comparing Joe Quesada to Vince McMahon and Grant Morrison and Frank Miller to Vince Russo.
And both comics and wrestling have had to deal with being underappreciated as art forms. Like comics for many years, wrestling has carried the false stigma of being a form of entertainment reserved for kids, geeks, and in general, people of lower intelligence.
And like comics, wrestling is presented in a serialized format. When it’s great, every installment should leave you happy, wanting more, and anticipating the next one. When it’s not so great, you want to yell, “Screw This!” and give it up. But you keep giving it another chance because you love the art form so much and you keep hoping it’ll bet better.
That was the rant, now here’s the retrospective:
You see, there’s another similarity between comics and wrestling. For years we wrestling fans have been waiting for our own ‘Chistopher Nolan.’ A great director who’ll take the thing we love seriously, and make a great film about it. And it looks like we finally got him in Aronofsky.
We of course know about some of the craptacular films comic fans have had to endure prior to ‘The Dark Knight.’ Now I want to share with you all some of the films we wrestling fans have had over the years.
‘The Wrestler’ (1974) dir. James A. Westman
Unfortunately I’ve yet to see this film in its entirety, but it’s worth mentioning due to its portrayal of wrestling. You see this was produced by Verne Gagne, the then owner, promoter, and World Champion of the American Wrestling Association (AWA), one of the biggest promotions in the American Northwest.
This was made during an era where wrestler’s and bookers went to great lengths to protect the illusion that wrestling was real, and thus that was how it was portrayed in this film. Now the thing about Gagne is that as a former Olympic wrestler, he respected and presented wrestling as a serious sport, not the cartoon character filled world of “sports entertainment” that Vince McMahon would create ten years later in the WWF which has since become the norm.
The film stars Ed Asner as wrestling promoter Frank Bass who struggles to keep his business legit in the face of corrupting influences while Gagne himself plays aging World Champion Mike Bollar who faces the challenge of the younger Billy Taylor, played by wrestler Billy Robinson.
The consensus I’ve gotten about this film is that it’s a good piece of nostalgia for old school wrestling fans, featuring cameos by Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch, ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham, Nick Bockwinkel, and more. And for a film filled with non actors, it’s not too bad.
‘No Holds Barred’ (1989) dir. Thomas J. Wright
Now we skip ahead to the late eighties, where the WWF was experiencing a boom in popularity and Hulkamania was running wild….brother.
Financed by WWF owner Vince McMahon and released by New Line Cinema, this was an attempt to boost Hulk Hogan’s “acting”.
Hogan plays Rip, the super popular, muscle bound wrestler with a heart of gold. Rip’s matches bring big ratings to the network he’s on, so when rival network executives (Kurt Fuller) fail to sign him away, they decide to put on their own wrestling show featuring ex-con Zeus (Tommy Lister) as it’s star. After threats against Rip’s friends and family, a showdown is inevitable.
Where to begin, like ‘The Wrestler’ before it, wrestling is portrayed as real, but this time through the lenses of a cheesy 80’s action movie, and not even a good one. It’s full of cliché to ridiculous dialogue with equally ridiculous acting and infantile humor, including a scene where Rip intimidates a would-be assailant into soiling himself.
Not to say that this film doesn’t have some camp entertainment value. You can make fun of it while getting drunk with your friends. Otherwise there’s no real reason to see it more than once, if at all.
Personally I’d rather listen to a two hour promo by legitimate nutcase the Ultimate Warrior than see this film again.
After its release, the WWF then decided to bring in the Zeus character to feud with Hogan ‘in real life,’ to get revenge for his loss in the movie, culminating in a pay-per-view event in December 89 entitled, “No Holds Barred: The Movie/ The Match” which featured a showing of the movie followed by a steel cage tag match pitting Hogan and Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake against Zeus and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage.
I’m not making that up.
Ready To Rumble (2000) dir. Brian Robbins
Now here’s where the shit really starts. If the fact that this was directed by Brian ‘Norbit/Meet Dave’ Robbins doesn’t clue you in to the quality of this film, then let me elaborate.
David Arquette and Scott Caan star as wrestling fans who decide to help out their hero Jimmy King (Oliver Platt) after he’s screwed over by his boss, promoter Titus Sinclair (Joe Pantoliano). Martin Landau and Rose McGowan also have minor roles.
This one was produced by World Championship Wrestling and features many WCW wrestlers appearing as themselves, including Diamond Dallas Paige as one of the villains, Bam Bam Bigelow, Bill Goldberg, Sting, Rey Mysterio, Curt Henning, Sid Vicious, and Perry Saturn.
Now this one was supposed to be a comedy, if it were in fact funny. Apparently someone in WCW thought it would be a good idea to use a movie to promote wrestling as it simultaneously makes fun of wrestling and its fan base. This movie can’t even make up its mind on whether or not it wants to portray wrestling as legit or predetermined. At the beginning we clearly see wrestlers discussing the finish to their match, but throughout the rest of the movie it’s treated like it’s real.
And with all due respect to real life fan David Arquette, his and Caan’s over the top portrayals of wrestling fans are irritating, unlikable, and among the most embarrassing thing wrestling fans have had to watch.
At least until this guy came along:
At least Platt and Landau make the movie watchable. Not enjoyable, but watchable.
But that’s not even the worst of it. WCW was losing in its ratings war with the WWF as a result of bad booking and mismanagement. So they decided to pull off a publicity stunt be putting the World Title on David Arquette.
You read that right.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your WCW World Heavyweight Champion, David Arquette.
When it comes to bullshit like this, I don’t blame people for not liking wrestling.
WCW went out of business less than a year later. I’m not saying this movie killed of the second biggest promotion in wrestling history, but it didn’t stop the bleeding either.
I could add ‘Nacho Libre’ to the list, but there’s nothing really special to talk about with that one. It was an entertaining if forgettable Jack Black vehicle that while it didn’t do any favors for wrestling, at least it didn’t outright insult it the way ‘Ready to Rumble’ did.
There it is, my first spill blog. I’m sure I’ll have more once I have something to talk about, but now it’s 4 A.M. in Virginia and I need sleep.
Again, I wasn’t trying to blast anyone, just promoting discussion.