Saturday, June 19, 2010
In your lifetime, you'll discover a film about something so intriguing that it'll call your attention, only to discover that it,
unfortunately, suffers from many unnecessary issues; whether they be technical (like poor sound/image quality) or philosophical (the point behind the film, is it fully addressed?). There's a great, American documentary in this film. However, it suffers from so many issues that it will either turn you away or leave you wondering if what you just witnessed was completely uninspired.
The latter issue isn't warranted, because it is inspired. It's inspired by the brutality and seemingly idiotic nature of Professional Wrestling. A world often misunderstood and ridiculed. The mere idea that one would go out of their way to damage their bodies in a non- competitive arena for little to no pay, all in the pursuit of glory, is enough of a reason to witness any film on the subject. Its history and prevalence in society, how it reflects social norms and taboos, and the hierarchy and culture within that world are all subjects worthy of their own, independently made films. With 101 Reasons Not To Be a Pro Wrestler, your expectations are high. The director, Michael Moody, is one of the rare individuals "outside" of the professional wrestling world who has the ability to infiltrate and relay details of the secrets of that world; ignoring the obvious clichés ("It's FAKE!"). Unfortunately, he stumbles where he should triumph. A veritable, self-inflicted wound, not unlike the bumps that many of his subjects take on a regular basis (without the artistry and finesse of said performers).
The main issue with the film is its structure. There's a structure, but it's loose and often meanders. At times, the interviewer (Moody) asks the same question, or a similar one, from a few scenes earlier, completely negating the flow and evolution of the story. Some interview sections run too long, which could have benefited from some simple, solid, good editing. It almost seems like Moody wants to keep going back to the same topics/problems of the world of professional wrestling, like a friend who is supposedly "over" some indiscretions of the past, only to continuously bring them up years later. He wants to keep exploring these questions without limiting them into one area of the film. On the one hand, it's an admirable trait, seeing as though so
much can go unexplored by limiting your content. Yet, on the other hand, it's often the same thing; never adding anything new to the conversation. Thus, it's redundant and it ends up weighing the film down.
The technical issues run rampant, as well. I suppose he shot this film on his own, which, again, is noble. However, you really have to have a good idea of what you want (with talent to back it up) to pull off a successful solo mission, and this doesn't reflect that. He could have benefited from some serious help, like a small crew or even just a boom operator. His questions are hard to hear and he often fumbles on his words, indicating an unpreparedness and slight nervousness. That may not be his fault, but if he knew what he was getting into, then he could have been more poised and articulate. The image quality is inconsistent, with lighting being a major factor in it. It was probably difficult to fix the lighting issues in areas like bars and parking lots, but if you're making a film, why not pull all the stops?
Now, those are big issues and they devalue the film, but there is a potentially great film within. Moments of the film really pull you back in, and the "cinema verité-like" technique utilized in those moments are exceptionally interesting. In one scene, professional wrestlers New Jack and Vampiro, alongside members of the Insane Clown Posse, are filming a commercial. They have to set up a spot where Vampiro will power-bomb New Jack onto the back of a fake wood fence and onto a picnic table. Vampiro begins to fumble while trying to lift New Jack, and he enlists the help of various set members. It's a great scene in that it harshly jux-ta-poses the ability of the professional wrestler from what you see on television. On TV, the power-bomb is seamlessly executed. In this spot, it requires the help of 4 extra hands, then 8, then 12 and so on. It's a painful reminder that "being at your peak" is a relatively short-lived part of ones life, and that is considerably true in the world of professional wrestling. However, that scene is ruined by the interview that comes after, in which Vampiro explains that his leg, which was previously broken, couldn't sustain New Jack's weight. The beauty of the scene was what you were witnessing, and to evaluate it later only tarnishes it.
Another seemingly great scene is where Joanie Laurer, better remembered as Chyna, is celebrating with a few friends out on the parking lot. The sadness and naive, but pained joy of these characters are fully expressed in their actions. However, it, too, is tarnished by Moody interjecting and asking interview questions. Maybe that scene is also indicative of Moody's involvement with these people. I mean, he's there; he's the one who's holding a camera. But it doesn't illicit anything important or intriguing. Rather, it comes off as unnecessary and annoying.
However, the true great moment of this film is the scene in which New Jack and an unidentified (and painfully old) wrestler grapple in-ring. The lighting: harsh. The crowd: small but rowdy. The security: pathetic. The moves: stilted. The immediate exhaustion: prevalent. It has the makings of something reminiscent from the Maysles Brothers. It's beautiful in its painful exhibition of days gone by. The lonely and almost disgusting nature of it almost clues you in to what these people (both the crowd and the wrestlers) might be thinking on an average day, "Why keep going on?" It's such a masterful scene that I wish Moody had the insight and audacity to shape his entire film off of such moments. I'm glad it's the only one, however, as it serves to be the main attraction of this film and helps elucidate the message embedded in the title of the film, 101 Reasons Not To Be a Pro Wrestler.
There are other nice moments scattered throughout the film, like a small backstage segment and a trainer tending to a wrestler's (Rikishi) sprained ankle. But they're few and far in between. The greatest moment is the aforementioned match.
What Moody could have learned from this experience (and maybe from some training in film, although that's not entirely necessary or even warranted) is that his best moments are the moments when he's not speaking; when he's letting the camera point to what he's witnessing and allowing it to exist on its own merits. This isn't to say that the interview sections aren't important, or that we shouldn't hear him ask questions, but they didn't have to be the entire film. And if they were better executed (especially the sound), that they would have brought this film to an apex of sorts. I guess it's a trait of many "shoots," where wrestlers are interviewed on various topics (with no edits, whatsoever). They usually don't regard technical issues seriously and quality is not an issue. There's definitely something admirable about it, in which the harsh reality of the overall situation is emphasized. However, in a documentary film, it doesn't really serve to aid the film. There would have had to have been some form of artful rendering of such a nuance, but it's just not there.
101 Reasons Not To Be a Pro Wrestler is an interesting film, and it could have been a great film, but it falls flat almost entirely, if it were not for a few select scenes. I'd recommend this only to die-hard wrestling fanatics who vehemently support so-called shoot videos. But for cinephiles, it might not be worth it.