Beyond The Mat

Beyond The Mat (1999)
Universal Home Video
Extras: Interviews, Featurette, Commentary Track

When a friend first introduced me to wrestling many, many years ago, I though nothing of this sort of entertainment, but after a few exposures I eventually got to appreciate its entertainment value. Wrestling no longer is the same it was in the late 80s when it was a glorious celebration. It has descended into the gutter of extreme violence, uncontrolled rage and the sheer gratuity of blatant viciousness – hardly a role-model for our youths – and I am no longer following wrestling in any shape or form, still seeing the championship match between Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VI as one of the pivotal and most exciting moments in wrestling history.

With his documentary "Beyond The Mat" director Barry Blaustein tried to answer himself on question. A question that I had asked myself very frequently. "Who are these men, who are seemingly impervious to pain? These behemoths who enter the ring every night to entertain the crowds? These goliaths who seem immovable and indestructible?" It takes a special kind of man, that is clear, and Blaustein went on a tour to find a few of the icons of wrestling and learn a bit more about them. What we get to witness is a mesmerizing account of determination, heartbreaking stories and some incredible accounts of shrewdness.

"Beyond The Mat" starts light enough by seeing where some of the talent comes from that is then hyped to superstardom by Vince McMahon and his promoters. The back-alley gyms. Quickly we see that McMahon is the undisputed king of all things wrestling and that he uses and abuses his power at his own discretion – as long as there’s a couple of million bucks in it for him. Before you completely condemn the man however, keep in mind, that he is also actively engaging in the ring and puts his head on the line many a nights.

The film then moves on to visit one legend of old, Terry Funk. This man has wrestled in all major and minor leagues for a lifetime and has won every title that is out there… and is still doing it. What drives man like this? A man with a family, grown up children and increasing health problems? Blaustein spends quite some time with Funk during the course of the film and we get to see the softer side of this man, whose passion and life is wrestling.

Next up is Mick Foley, better known as "Mankind" or "Cactus Jack" the man who took the level of brutality to a new level in the WWF. Absolutely impervious to pain, Foley has had his body smashed and thrown around the arena for 15 years, not once leaving the ring without a wide open, gushing bloody wound on his body. I never took much a liking to Foley I have to admit, but "Beyond The Mat" completely changed my view of this man. Backstage we get to see the most charming man, always with a smile and a laugh, a dedicated husband and loving father, who loves nothing more than seeing his little children laugh. The clash of personalities between onstage and offstage personae could not be larger!

And then there is Jake "The Snake" Roberts, a man I always admired in the WWF. Still touring the circle of small leagues, Jake is a mere shadow of himself. Heavily addicted to drugs and substances, the legend is in fact a broken man who has not seen a lighthearted day in most of his life. Blaustein revisits Jake’s past with him to see where this darkness is coming from that haunts this wrestler, and takes us on a very personal journey as we witness Jake Roberts face some of his demons.

And there’s more to this documentary. So much more. Even though I do not take an interest in wrestling any more, I found "Beyond The Mat" to be a most thrilling and exciting film. It confirms many suspicions I had about the people putting on this spectacle, and it also destroyed many of the preconceived notions I had at the same time.

Universal’s rerelease of this film comes with some new extras. The image is very clean and clear for the most part, making it thoroughly enjoyable to watch. Also the audio on the disc is very good and captures the intimacy of many moments very nicely.

A captivating <$commentary,commentary track> by Terry Funk and Blaustein is also included.

As new extras you will find interviews with Mick Foley and Jesse Ventura on this DVD. Both of them are extremely candid in their discussion touching upon many topics that are often considered taboo in wrestling. Whether it is the lack of a union for wrestlers to give them pension and retirement plans or to protect them from the antics of people like Vince McMahon who tosses and plays them like a cue ball, or whether it is about things like charity or the impact of wrestling on their personal lives, these interviews are real gold nuggets.

Blaustein goes even further in a featurette called "Dinner with the legends" in which he spends time with Foley and Ventura in a relaxed dinner atmosphere in which they recall and discuss their favorite wrestling moments.

If you are a fan of wrestling or if you ever have been a fan, this DVD is definitely something you have to check out. Never have you been able to catch a more intimate and personal look behind the scenes of professional wrestling. It may change your perspective on you and explain many a things, such as the untimely demise of so many wrestlers.