I first started watching pro wrestling about 10 years ago. I never watched it as a kid, so you could say I was a bit late to the party. This was right around the time of Wrestlemania 10, which was the first pay-per-view I ever ordered. It was a great show, and while wrestling has had its share of ups and downs over the years, it remains pretty much the only thing I watch on TV regularly. Still, it's a real shame that wrestling is a guilty pleasure for me.
No, I'm not ashamed that I love to watch it..I'm ashamed that so many people think it's a big waste of time.
It's gotten a really bad rap over the years, and I honestly don't understand why. Wrestling is entertainment, pure and simple. The most popular brand in America is WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). It combines equal parts action movie, three-ring circus, and a sprinkle of the comics page. How is that a bad thing? Monday Night Raw, the flagship show of WWE, has been on the air for over 10 years, producing a new show each and every week, no matter what month it is. There's a colossal amount of effort delivered by the crew, promoters and athletes themselves. Every week, they bust their chops to entertain the fans. Yet the best thing most people can come up with when they hear about wrestling is...
"You watch that stuff? It's fake!"
Huh. No kidding.
Movies are fake. TV shows are fake. Heck, boxing is almost fake these days. Yet, no one has a problem with those, but wrestling is consistently the whipping boy of snobs the world over. Well, I'll admit that wrestling has had its share of embarrasing moments, but here's why I like it: it's fun, it's entertaining, and I really can't think of anything I'd rather watch with a group of good friends (well, except for The Big Lebowski). Period.
While WWE is sadly the only option for many fans, many independent organizations have popped up over the country (and worldwide). ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) pretty much set the standard for independent wrestling in the 90s, and newer organizations like ROH (ROH) offer a distinct alternative. Organizations such as All Japan, New Japan, and Michinoku Pro have exposed American fans to international talent. There's tons of different styles...literally "something for everyone", if you're willing to look hard enough.
The Backyard is a documentary by the UK's Paul Hough. Hough is relatively new to the directing scene, having only worked in film and TV on a handful of other occasions. He was the director of the 1996 short film End of the Line, which was the basis for last year's box-office smash, Phone Booth.
In The Backyard, Paul Hough turns the camera towards the strange world of backyard wrestling. For those unfamiliar with the term, it's pretty simple. A group of wrestling fans stage matches and perform for whoever wants to watch, all in the discomfort of their own backyard (or wherever there's room, really). Most of the performers are fairly young, but they have one thing in common: their sincere love of wrestling. It's not always fun and games: people get hurt, weapons are used, and there's even the occasional table covered in barbed wire and set ablaze. But in a weird way, it's not far from a group of kids organizing a baseball game...it's just a little more dangerous.
Hough has made it his duty to travel around the country (and even in his home country of England), capturing a bit of every style out there. Thumbtacks, flourescent lights...it's all fair game to most of these guys (and girls). Needless to say, there's a lot of blood shed during the brisk 77-minute running time. This documentary is not for the squeamish...I found it a little tough to watch in some spots, but it's nothing most wrestling fans haven't seen before.
To be fair, though, I have to say that the true idea behind these matches is not grounded in rage and hate. Unlike, say, boxing---where the primary goal is to hurt your opponent---pro wrestling thrives on the art of illusion. While it's certainly violent on the most basic level, there's tricks to the trade. Sure, there's injuries that occur, but isn't that true of any other sport?
With that said, there's much more to this documentary than the basic violence itself. The Backyard also focuses on the wrestlers themselves, and shows what goes on when they're not performing. Most of these kids come from broken homes...there's not much else in their lives. Both sides of every aspect are also covered: from parents to teachers to passers-by, you get a good look at both the supporters of this sport, and those that wish it didn't exist. Some of the parents showed an almost disarming amount of support for their kids, while others practically disowned them. Throughout the documentary, I found myself seeing things from both sides of the spectrum...I'm sure you will too.
There's tons of wrestlers showcased in The Backyard, but a select few get more attention. WWE Superstar Rob Van Dam is featured in a few clips at his home, and delivers some interesting comments...he's more or less "your host for the evening". It's good to see a familiar face here, and RVD was the perfect choice for this type of documentary. However, everyone else present on camera are new faces to most fans of wrestling, but there's several standouts.
The unofficial star of the show, 'The Lizard', is known as "the most determined backyard wrestler alive today". The camera follows him through many amazing adventures, from the local circuit to the city of Las Vegas, where he tries out for Tough Enough II (a nationwide WWE talent competition). While only a small account of his actual wrestling ability was shown here, more focus was directed on his raw determination. Even though he's not exactly the smartest, most talented, or well-spoken individual, you can't help but root for the guy. He has his dream, and he's following it. Another wrestler is known as Scar, a young man who shares the same dream. He had numerous health problems at a young age, and was constantly operated on. It's sad to see that a kid has gone through so many hard times in his life, but wrestling has been his outlet.
That's another thing that struck me about The Backyard. There's equal parts comedy, shocking violence, and several genuinely sad moments. It's all very jarring, but holds up quite nicely. It's very similar in style to Barry Blaustein's Beyond the Mat in both narrative style and format. I had the pleasure of seeing Beyond the Mat in theaters several years ago, and it's highly recommended if you enjoy this documentary. While The Backyard doesn't live up to the scope of such other documentaries, it does a great job of presenting the information fairly.
Anyway, it would be much better to let the movie speak for itself, so I'll wrap up the preview. The Backyard is an interesting collage of frienship, determination, and some people who I sincerely hope never breed. It's quite an experience, seeing every side of backyard wrestling; but this documentary provides an honest, unpretentious look at a fascinating phenomenon. While it would have been more eye-opening several years ago, it's a very interesting ride and should thrill any fan of wrestling.
The new DVD from Image is the subject today, and offers a decent presentation of the movie itself, with a few nice special features thrown in for good measure. Let's see what we have here:
Well, it's a low-budget documentary based on a low-budget subject, so I wasn't expecting much. Most of the footage was shot on hand-held (possibly digital, I'm not sure), so this looks like the subject implies---gritty, ugly, and dirty---but the shoe fits. This is not meant to be polished and clean, so it's not. Colors are generally good (plenty of red!), and image detail is passable. The video varies in quality, but never reaches an "unwatchable" point. What we do get is pretty good, and is likely the best this documentary could look. This won't exactly blow your mind, but it's good enough for what it is.
Same deal here. This documentary is presented in Dolby Stereo, and does the job. While it's lackluster when compared to most productions, you can't really complain about the audio here. There were a few scenes of extreme quiet and loud...mostly when the small crows react to the punishing moves pulled off. If you were big into ECW or any independent wrestling tapes, that's about the quality you can expect here. Don't worry...the screams of pain and anguish can be easily heard.
There's a pretty decent set of extras here. While not a packed disc, there's a few things that sweeten the pot a little. The first feature I'll mention is an interesting Audio Commentary featuring director Paul Hough, and two of the wrestlers...The Lizard and Scar. This is a pretty interesting listen, and a nice addition to the disc...I wasn't used to listening to a commentary for a documentary, but all three participants are up to the job. The two wrestlers are occasionally tough to understand (they're not exactly dynamite on the mic), but they really seem to be enjoying themselves. Also inluded are three Deleted Scenes...one is a 10-minute session with Rob Van Dam, another goes into more detail about weapons used, and the third featues some of the younger wrestlers from the Modesto wrestling organization. They're all fairly interesting, and almost should have been left in. Also included are three Trailers for other documentaries. Some of the subjects covered were underground hip-hop music, and a man who is a dorky-looking deliveryman by day, and a lead singer in a metal band by night. Very strange indeed, but worth a look. Everything fit together pretty well, and thus ends the short but sweet bonus features for this disc.
Menu design and presentation:
The menus were suited well for the documentary, if not a little cliched. The navigation is simple and easy, but some of the menu transitions are a little on the clunky side. Packaging itself is pretty standard, with appropriately savage cover art. An insert and advertisment are also included inside. Overall, pretty standard packaging and presentation...just about what you'd expect, and that's all you really need in this case.
Should anything else have been included?
I think the extras included here fit the bill. There's not a ton of stuff to look through, but what's there goes very well with the main feature itself. I always have to look at documentaries in a different light as far as extras go...for example, things like "behind-the scenes featurettes" wouldn't really add much, since documentaries are typically as "behind-the-scenes" as you can get. So for what it's worth, I think the perfect amount of extra stuff is on here. The Backyard is a pretty solid value for your money.
The Backyard is a worthy addition to any wrestling fan's DVD collection, period. The DVD isn't bad, and the low $19.99 MSRP makes this a terrific value. However, this isn't for everybody. If you don't appreciate wrestling, this won't change your mind. If you're a relatively new fan to wrestling, this will really be an eye-opener. While it didn't really show me much that I hadn't seen before, it was a well-done, objective look into this bizarre ritual. While The Backyard isn't up to the level of earlier wrestling documentaries (like the aforementiond Beyond the Mat), it's definitely worth checking out. Invite a few friends over, and take a strage trip into the world of backyard wrestling. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.