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  July 1, 2000



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Mat movie's an eye-opener


By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For The Calgary Sun

 There's a new wrestling movie that opens in Calgary this weekend called Beyond The Mat, and I think it's worth checking it out. But think twice about bringing the kids.

 It's bloody and more than a little strange -- an eerily-accurate mood piece on the dark side of the wrestling business that you didn't see in Wrestling With Shadows. I was fortunate to be a wrestler in an era when, largely through the mainstream marketing of Hulk Hogan, the WWF cleaned up the seedier side of wrestling. I'm grateful that I was able to be a wrestling hero in an era when kids and grandparents could come to the shows.

 I didn't need to bleed every night to entertain people. Paul Jay captured that era in Shadows, and it now serves as a historic account of the way things were -- and may never be again.

 Now comes Barry Blaustein's Beyond the Mat, a movie made at a time when wrestling has gone full circle -- for some sad reason steered back to its blood and guts, back-alley mentality by the same promoters who worked so hard to pull it out of the gutter just 15 years ago -- until only three years ago. It is in this age of contradiction that Blaustein, a big wrestling fan since he was a kid, decided to make a move that looks to answer the question, 'Who are these guys who bash each other's head into the ring post for a living?' The film is Barry's video diary of what happens when he lives every fan's fantasy by tracking down the wrestlers that he'd watched on TV and getting to know what they're really like.

 Blaustein accomplishes a riveting, in-depth 'where are they now?' type portrait of what's happened to his all- time favourite, Jake `the Snake' Roberts, since his quick fade from the WWF scene in the early 1990s. I found it disturbing to watch a legendary figure melting away in a cocaine cloud. "The road really messed up my sex life," Jake reflects, before going into further graphic detail.

 Blaustein's portrait of Mick Foley is just as intimate.

 "People think maybe I'm a masochist -- but I'm not. I can retire by 35 or 36 and stay home with my kids. Not that I enjoy getting hit with chairs. I'm good at it," Foley says, as if he's trying to convince himself.

 There are disturbing scenes of Mick's young son and daughter, in the front row at a brutal and bloody WWF match, horrified and hysterically in tears, watching dad get beat up. (McMahon wanted Blaustein to edit the reaction of the kids out of the film -- for obvious reasons. It's still there) Later in the movie, when Blaustein shows Foley the footage, Mick says, "I don't feel like such a good dad anymore. I don't ever want my kids to see anything like that again."

 Blaustien plays back a message that Mick left on his answering machine after taking more blows to his head. Mick is confusedly slurring his speech, and as a guy with a severe concussion myself, it sent chills up my spine to hear Mick that way.

 The difference is when I got hurt, it was by accident. Mick goes out there planning to get hurt.

 All through Beyond The Mat, I had the feeling that some guys just don't know when to quit.

 I always felt that the fans will remember you by the last picture they have of you in their mind, so why not make it a good one!

 A few years ago, I even wondered why Hogan and Flair are still at it. I'm not so sure anymore, maybe I'll keep going, too. How long is too long?

 There's a wrestler by the name of Dennis Stamp in the movie. He's had more than 800 matches, one of which was with a very young Bret Hart way back when.

 Today he's an exterminator.

 The last time he wrestled was in 1991, and yet he jumps up and down on a trampoline in his backyard, at 50-plus years of age, to stay in shape because the phone could ring at any moment and he wants to be ready for his next match. I can't decide if that's sad -- or dedicated -- or both.

 Beyond the Mat is filled with unsettling contradictions, raising more questions than it answers.

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