As a kid, I was a huge fan of the WWF. I'd watch it as often as I could. I collected the twelve inch rubber wrestling figures and even had the toy wrestling ring that I'd make them fight in. I fell for the two-dimensional plots hook, line and sinker. Back in the eighties, wrestling was cool. Nowadays I honestly can't be bothered with it. I guess I just grew out of it because aside from the camp value, it just doesn't interest me anymore. With that aside, I wasn't sure how entertained I'd be by Barry Blaustein's wrestling documentary, Behind The Mat.
Essentially, the film takes a look at the behind the scenes workings of the WWF and the ECW as well. Personal interviews with Mick Foley, Jake The Snake Roberts, Terry Funk, and a few other famous wrestlers are interspersed with footage of them in the game and a lot of focus is put on how much of the sport is actually faked.
The film also takes a colder look at the business side of the sport. WWF chairman Vince McMahon is interviewed (and also shown wrestling) and some of his associates are as well. The behind the scenes portion that does cover the more capitalist side of the industry doesn't exactly paint it in a positive light (Jake The Snake says to his daughter when she asks him why he never took a day off that he'd have been fired if he did). It seems like a pretty cut throat world that doesn't care what happens to its veterans – as proven by the shorter interviews with such one time WWF stars as The Birdman Coco B. Ware.
The really interesting aspects of the documentary though are the three wrestlers that it takes an in-depth look at. Mick Foley is shown interacting with his wife and kids. When the rock smacks Mick in the face with a chair and he starts bleeding, you can see and hear Mick's kids start crying as the sit a few feet away from the ring as it happens. When a fifty three year old Terry Funk gets in the ring for what he claims would be the last time (it wasn't), you can see the look of sheer panic on his wife's face when he takes a few shots to the back of the head. And when Jake The Snake Roberts reunites with his daughter and she unloads on him because of the way he treated her as a child, you're not really surprised when he goes back to his room and hits the crack pipe – this guy has lead a really messed up life and demanding industry/sport in which he chose to make his profession just ground him into the dirt.
Another interesting aspect of the documentary is the side that shows a pair of WWF prospects trying to work their way up the ladder for a shot at the big time. They start off wrestling at a training school and end up on an opening card for a weekly WWF match up, but never really get the chance to go any further and end up back where they started. We see them train in the ring, practicing moves, discussing diet and lifestyle choices and attitude as well.
It all proves to be a rather fascinating look at an aspect of the entertainment industry that a lot of us loved as kids and a lot of us still love today. It doesn't paint a pretty picture over certain aspects of it but that's a good thing – its honesty is appreciated. The director approaches the movie as a fan and his love of the sport shines through, even when it's not always smiles and rainbows that he's dealing with. If the film has one flaw it's that it was too short. It didn't cover so many of the famous performers that we know and love. Now, obviously with hundreds of wrestlers having made their way through the ring over the decades that it's been popular it would have been impossible to cover everyone and he did make great choices with the ones he did get to participate. But I can't help but admit to a tinge of disappointment to not seeing a few more of the guys I loved when I was a bratty little kid. Maybe if we're lucky Blaustein will give us a sequel.
Beyond The Mat was shot fullframe and that's exactly how it's presented on this DVD. Some of the footage isn't exactly crystal clear and given the conditions surrounding the making of the film you can't really expect it to be but for the most part, what we're left with is a stable and pleasant image. There is some print damage and a fair amount of grain in a few scenes but overall the movie is easy enough to watch, and there aren't any compression issues or transfer problems save for some very mild edge enhancement.
There's only one mix on the DVD and it's done in Dolby Digital Surround Sound. It's clean and clear without any distortion or hiss. There are a few scenes where some of the dialogue is a bit muffled by the crowds or by background noise but this is definitely something inherent with the source and context of the film and not a problem with the actual disc. There's really little to complain about here. Removable French and Spanish subtitles are also supplied.
The biggest and best of the extra features on the DVD come in the form of two feature length commentary tracks. The first one features director Barry Blaustein and famed wrestler Mick Foley, and the second one is Barry Blaustein and famed wrestler Terry Funk. With both of these guys playing such large parts in the film it's great to hear them on the commentaries and the results are quite interesting. Blaustein is more of a moderator on both tracks and the wrestlers give their take on the action with Barry playing more of a supervisory role. Both men come off as intelligent and have quite a bit of additional information to add to what we see happen to them on screen in the film. Jess Ventura is also featured on the track with Mick Foley and he too has quite a bit of interesting information to add as well. If you dug the movie, it's worth your time to check out either one of these commentaries.
The next main extra is entitled Dinner With The Guys and it's a roundtable discussion between Blaustein, Foley and Ventura that they have over dinner. They cover their origins in the sports and give their thoughts on it's enduring popularity as well as some more interesting behind the scenes anecdotes.
A theatrical trailer, some text bios and some production notes round out the extra features on this DVD.
Anyone who has ever had or still has any interest at all in professional wrestling owes it to themselves to check this documentary out if they haven't already seen it. Universal has done a great job on the disc – it looks good, it sounds good, and extras are relevant, and more importantly, very interesting. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.