February 22, 2008
Wrestlers' voices heard in Blood, Guts, and No Glory
By DAVE HILLHOUSE - SLAM! Wrestling
Starring: Kid Kash, "American Dragon" Bryan Danielson, Scott D'Amore, others
The filmmaker's intervention is minimal (no questions are heard, and the only time the filmmakers clearly inserts himself is through some subtitled information displayed while the wrestlers continue talking). I imagine the point of this film is to make the audience member feel like they happen to be sitting down and talking to the wrestlers themselves.
This is the advantage to a "talking heads" style of documentary filmmaking: it provides a real connection to the subject and doesn't feel like a mission solely for the purposes of the filmmaker, one for which the audience is tagging along. Blood, Guts, and No Glory achieves this feeling of close proximity between subject and audience, most especially through its use of earthy locations: locker room; exterior of what is presumably a gymnasium housing an event; and what appears to be a Mick Foley autograph signing.
The disadvantage of this kind of documentary is that it depends exclusively on the material provided by the subjects: there is no Michael Moore to provide entertainment. This is where the film suffers from what may have been a logistical and pragmatic issue: it slowly turns into "The Kid Kash Show", as his opinions are given much more weight than those of the others interviewed. This may have been because, for those given segments, nobody but Kash had anything worthwhile to say. If that's not the reason, I can't explain why the film would focus so much more on him more than anybody else.
At the outset of this 50-minute long film, there is a title that tells us we're about to get the real story of pro wrestling. Frankly, it seems unlikely that this film will blow the cover off of anything heretofore unknown about the sport. The film is divided into segments featuring thoughts from wrestlers on, in order, injuries, unionization, payment, steroids, politics, and the issue of maintaining a normal family life outside of wrestling.At first, suspicions are confirmed: there is nothing new to be learned about wrestlers and their injuries. Everyone brought before the camera -- Sinn, Kid Kash, Foley, Jimmy Hart and others -- describe how wrestlers, more so than athletes in any other competitive sport, play through pain. What was a little more enlightening was to hear from more than one worker how the promoters will tend to tell the talent to take time off, but it is the wrestlers themselves who get back to work, all to often too soon so as to not lose their job. This is more in line with other professional athletes, many of whom will try to hide an injury rather than take time off or let their weaknesses be known.
The segment on unionization was also interesting to hear, since it is not a topic that will ever come up at a major promotion's press conference. The wrestlers -- to a person -- shrugged and said that a union will never happen, striking a defeatist tone. Also interesting was discussion during the segment on steroids, not for any discussion of the drug's rampant use nor for denial of its use, but for Scott D'Amore making a nice argument for wrestling's competition coming from Hollywood, not pro sports. He argues that nobody questions how Sylvester Stallone got into such great shape for the middle Rocky movies, and D'Amore feels that wrestlers are unfairly scrutinized when compared to their filmmaking counterparts.
The production values of this film are lean, and you will receive your best value from the sound bites provided by the wrestlers themselves. Not much of what they have to say is earth-shatteringly new, but a lot of it is fun to listen to and some of it is quite insightful. The film tries to push its big name interviewees like Foley and Jimmy Hart early, but they clearly run short of material from their varied sources. Perhaps a tight edit into a program suitable for a 30-minute airing would have been the way to go.
Blood, Guts, and No Glory is currently airing in rotation on ESPN Canada.
Dave Hillhouse is a screenwriter and teacher living near Niagara Falls. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.