By Michael Sragow
March 16, 2000 | Barry W. Blaustein, a co-screenwriter of "The Nutty Professor" and a longtime writer for Eddie Murphy, just wanted to make a documentary on his closet passion for pro wrestling. He didn't count on winding up in a cage match with the World Wrestling Federation's colorful, pugnacious impresario, Vince McMahon.
But Blaustein's searching documentary on the sport, "Beyond the Mat," has come under fire from McMahon and his powerful franchise, culminating in a cease-and-desist letter aimed at disrupting the movie's advertising campaign.
McMahon is a charismatic on-camera presence in the movie; at one point he even wanted to invest in it. But now he's told his wrestlers that they can't help promote the film -- and he's used his muscle to keep the film's commercials off his shows. Blaustein says McMahon has even worked to bar TV ads from two networks -- a charge that the WWF denies. The contretemps has chagrined both Blaustein and his distributor, Lions Gate Releasing.
Mark Urman, co-president of Lions Gate, has said, "Mr. McMahon has decided that he doesn't like our film, so now he wants to prevent wrestling fans nationwide, who so far have embraced the film, from finding out about it."
How could such a battle come about -- and with such unlikely combatants?
Blaustein and his comedy partner, David Sheffield, have been writing for Murphy ever since the three joined "Saturday Night Live" in 1980. Blaustein and Sheffield share credit with other writers on "The Nutty Professor" (1996) and on the forthcoming "Nutty II: The Klumps," which Blaustein vows is better than the first.
But for a decade longer than he's known Murphy, Blaustein has been a fan of professional wrestling. When he was a kid in Westbury, N.Y., his dad would take him to wrestling bouts in West Hempstead and Queens. Blaustein never lost his love for it -- nor his embarrassment over it.
Five years ago, he decided to make a documentary about his secret passion, which he admits not even his wife or his two teenage children understand. The finished film, "Beyond the Mat" (which opens Friday nationwide) made the preliminary list of nominees for the best documentary Oscar and earned Blaustein a nomination from the Directors Guild of America. It's a potent piece of work, full of unresolved arguments and emotions. It leaves you in a state of visceral confusion toward intelligent, capable men who get paid for being bashed.
The film's hero is Mick Foley, aka Mankind, a sane, humorous family guy and the bestselling autobiographer of "Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks." Blaustein considers his Long Island homeboy the most normal wrestler he's ever met. But you feel like prosecuting Foley for child abuse when he allows his pint-size son and daughter to watch his friendly rival, the Rock, beat him mercilessly around the ring.
That sequence is typical of the jolts in "Beyond the Mat," which range from the sublime to the ludicrous -- from hearing a teacher-turned-wrestler talk Shakespeare while blood pours down his face to seeing McMahon audition a wrestler and dub him "Puke" because he can throw up on demand.
You mostly see Blaustein from the back of his gray-blond head, but there's no confusion about where he stands. From beginning to end, he's solidly pro-wrestling. He likes it, though he can't tell exactly why.
Which makes it all the more ironic that the film has put him at loggerheads with McMahon.
"When I approached Vince, wrestling was not as big as it is now," Blaustein recalled during a recent visit to San Francisco. "And Vince was getting a strong challenge from Ted Turner's wrestling group, World Championship Wrestling. I told Vince I wanted to do a movie to show why I like wrestling and to give non-fans an appreciation of what these guys go through. Not everybody can do what they do -- can go through the pain and still be these extraordinary performers -- and I thought they should be treated with respect. Usually, everything about wrestling is either negative or condescending. I promised Vince that this wouldn't be either."
McMahon didn't merely cooperate with Blaustein, he offered to triple his budget. Blaustein said no -- he wanted to maintain journalistic independence. Still, McMahon kept bidding to buy the movie. Michael Rosenberg, the president of the film's production company, Imagine, says, "During the three years of production on 'Beyond the Mat,' the WWF, through its owner, Vince McMahon, continued to try and convince Imagine to allow him to be an investor in the film." According to Blaustein, when McMahon saw the movie, he called Imagine and said, "Name your price." But Imagine turned him down.
The rebuff was apparently not what the scrappy WWF kingpin -- a bad-boy wrestling icon himself -- wanted to hear. Blaustein says, "Vince told me it's not the film he would have made: 'I like to put smiles on people's faces,' he said, 'but I think you did a great job, and I have no regrets knowing you. I'm just not going to do anything that would help you promote it.'"
He didn't want his wrestlers to promote it, either. "Six weeks ago, Mick Foley appeared on 'Good Morning, America' with me; Diane Sawyer said she'd never been a fan of wrestling but the film made her look on it as a different thing. Vince was very unhappy about that. He said, 'If any of these guys appear on any other programs with you, they do so at career risk. And if you care so much about Mick -- if he's your friend, as you claim him to be -- then you'll have him do nothing else.'"
McMahon's hardball tactics escalated. Lions Gate contends that the magnate is performing a pile driver on its ad campaign by vetoing TV spots for the film during the WWF wrestling shows "Raw is War," "Sunday Night Heat" and "SmackDown." (The company has retaliated by putting them on the Web.
Blaustein believes that McMahon went further. "He put pressure on UPN and USA not to run any commercials for the movie on any USA program or on any UPN program," Blaustein says.
Jim Byrne, senior vice president for marketing at the WWF, says that the company stands by its "longstanding policy" not to accept advertising for its TV shows from what he called "third-party wrestling product -- anything that isn't owned, controlled or managed by WWF Entertainment, Inc." He says there's "no truth" to the charge that the WWF pressured UPN and USA networks to decline advertising for "Beyond the Mat" on shows not produced by the WWF. And he chalks up the tangled relations between Blaustein and the WWF to misrepresentation on the filmmaker's part.
Says Byrne: "It was originally characterized as an art-house film, done as a major labor of love in 1997." But in the eyes of the WWF the film now appears to be "not an art-house film, but a major motion picture backed by major Hollywood players and a highly commercial venture." According to Byrne, WWF executives expected it to be shot and completed in 1997; McMahon continued to give Blaustein access precisely because he thought it was "an art-house film and labor of love. When we expressed interest, going back a year ago, for some financial stake in the film, [it was because] it uses our likenesses, trademarks and characters." But when the WWF honchos did take a look at the movie, in December, "We lost all emotional attachment to it. It just wasn't entertaining."
When I mentioned to Byrne that "Beyond the Mat" is only opening in 175 theaters, and that Lions Gate is primarily an art-house distributor, he countered, with a laugh: "We all know about 'Blair Witch Project'!" That comparison, at least, should make Blaustein happy.
UPN says, "No comment;" the USA network did not offer a response.
But Blaustein insists, "These broadcasters are bowing down to Vince. It's a frightening precedent. This movie is not negative toward Vince and the WWF. I think Vince's attitude is, if I can't have the film, I'm not going to let anybody else know about it."
To be continued...
Nitro begins with the Cat on the phone with Eric Bischoff. We are live from Charleston, West Virginia. Miller explains that he has suspended Big Poppa Pump. Mike Awesome came in and warned Cat about tonight. The camera shot changes to outside where there are 4 ambulances lined up at Mike Awesome's request. Then back inside for a fast paced six man match between the Jung Dragons and Three Count/Tank Abbott which was spoiled in the end by Talentless Tank in his usual fashion.
After the break, we go to Mike Awesome dealing out some mayhem in the backstage area (a continuing theme throughout the program) and then to a tribute video featuring the Outsiders until Goldberg invades the video truck and has it cut off. Kevin Nash is watching this on a backstage monitor and gets up and leaves the room with murder in his eye as Goldberg's music blairs forth. Goldberg goes to the ring and delivers a rant against the Outsiders. Actually he tells the truth about Nash and Hall - how they came to WCW trying to destroy it (which the crowd has conveniently forgotten). This brings Nash to the platform where he says, "Why wait until Sunday..?" and charges the ring. The Cat orders security forces to get between them and we go to commercial. After the break, the Cat is on the phone with Eric Bischoff getting his marching orders to keep the two behemoths apart.
Johnny the Bull has his final exam in Terry Funk's "school of hard knocks" - a hardcore match against the master himself. Funk dominates the proceedings until Johnny manages to get a kick in and knocks a chair back in his mentor's face. From there the fight jumps the rail and they are tearing into each other into the crowd where Johnny delivers a piledriver out on the concrete. Back toward the ring area, Johnny delivers a suplex and then places a chair on Funks head so he can dive onto his opponent from inside the ring. Funk hauls himself into the ring followed by Johnny who ducks a chair shot then goes for a cradle and fails. He delivers a chair shot of his own and tries again. Still no cigar. A DDT onto the chair finally dioes the trick and Johnny graduates Summa Cum Laude.
Backstage after the break, the Cat is telling Goldberg that Bischoff doesn't want him and Nash to meet until Sunday - Goldberg isn;t buying that line and demands a match with Nash tonight.
Tonight's MIA match features Cpl. Cajun and Capt. (or is it General..?) Rection against those two big PowerPlant graduates Gimcrack and O'Hare (or whatever). This is for a World Tag Team Title shot on next Monday's show. I can't figure out what the deal is with these two rookies. Certainly they have some talent but it seems to me they have a lot of seasoning to go through before they are really ready for the big time, as it were. In any case, MIA win it off of one of Rection's moonsaults. This is followed by the Tag Team Chumps running in and using their Lex Flexers to beat up on everyone in sight. Their hubris then leads them to do some posing as their enemies recover and suround them and gets some payback. Afterward, Major Guns did her thing prompting all four members of MIA to lie down for mouth to mouth resuccitation.
Backstage, Kevin Nash added his wishes to those of Goldberg for the Cat to make a match between them for tonight. He adds a threat to the mix...
Jeff Jarrett pays Hulk Hogan a backhanded compliment by mentioning that he considers him a legend...and talks about how his grandfather used to watch the Hulkster on TV. He then brings some "fat ladies" out to sing for Hogan (three hefty girls dressed as something out of a Wagner opera...) He holds a little contest to choose one for the PPV. This brings a representative of "standards and practices" out to censor the proceedings. Jarrett delivers a guitar shot on him for his trouble. Jarrett passes the Cat on his way out. The Cat makes an announcement from the ramp - a 20man battle royal including Goldberg and Nash for later in the show.
Booker T showed up for a match with Shane Douglas but is Pearl Harbored by Kanyon before he can get into the ring. Booker is rolled inside and right into Douglas' waiting arms while Kanyon heads over to the announce table. Moments later, Booker is back on the floor attacking Kanyon which gives Douglas a chance to blindside him. Back in the ring, Booker turns the tables momentarily but can't seem to hold the advantage for length of time. He finally turns it around but Kanyon is right there to provide distraction once again. It didn't help. After one false ending, Booker takes the pin...then gets punked.
Back in the heel locker room, the Cat is urging his guys to go after Nash during the battle royal.
The Demon is back! Dale Torborg's alter ego makes his first appearance in a couple of weeks. Good idea - Dale Torborg as Dale Torborg is going nowhere... Earier is the prograsm Asya was injured by a stray pyro explosion and a "mysterious figure" we think might be Sting gave Torberg his Demon costume. Only it was Vampiro as we found out moments later - as the "real mysterious figure" looked on. The match is Vampiro vs. the Demon, of course - apparently just what Vam wants. As the match gets going - about 10 of the "msterious figures" appear on the platform and head to surround the ring. This distracts Vampiro, giving the Demon a chance to take the victory. Demons splits and the ghostly guys surround Vampiro...but the lights go out and Vamp disappears. Backstage, "Smooth" is strategizing with the Filthy Animals.
The Cat next visits the face locker room and demands that they do all they can to keep Nash away from Goldberg in the battle royal. In another area of the backstage, David Flair is schmoozing his erstwhile fiance to keep her from looking at the monitor, which shows Miss Hancock entering the ring in her new outfit...a wedding gown. Meanwhile, Crowbar runs in and traps Miss H in a chair and threatens her with a hair clipper - calling David Flair out to action for his recent shenanegans. Flair has faked a stomach ache to get Daffney out of the way and runs to the ring to help his "other" girlfriend. As he is pleading with Crowbar. Daffney runs in with a bottle of Pepto Bismol, delivers a low blow and then pours the contents over his head. Miss H escapes and knocks Daffney down then the two of them knock Crowbar out and start clipping Daffney's hair! They then plant the clippers and locks of Daffney's hair on the unconscious Crowbar so that whenb the two victims awake - it appears to Daffney that Crowbar used the clippers on her.
Backstage after the break, Crowbar becomes the first actual wrestler to fall prey to Mike Awesome's rage. The Cat is watching this on a monitor when Smooth" brings Tygress in to seduce him. In the ring the Filthy Animals bring out Juventud and Rey Rey dressed up as Kidman and Lance Storm respectively. They are in the middle of a bogus interview when the real Kidman and Storm hit the ring, leading to a sort of "mirror match" with the two look alike teams facing off. It is apparent that Juvey and Rey are a much more experienced team as they dominate the early going. Is it just me or is Rey Rey much less interesting as a heel? With the help of their FA companions, Rey and Juvie win the match. This explains why the Cat was being distracted - so that he wouldn't see the interference...
Mike Awesome finally gets into the ring and is drawing some super heel heat as he rants about what he is been up to all evening. He then declares that he wants Scott Steiner...who isn't around of course, because he's been suspended. When Steiner fails to show, he demands that a referee count Steiner out and declare him the winner. Rick Steiner runs in and whips Awesome's butt - causing "the Career Killer" to flee for his life.
The 20 man battle royal starts with almost no time left in the program. In fact the Cat held the face guys up in their locker room so that the match was essentially a gauntlet with Nash as the victim. Not that it did any good - he vanquished them all as the good guys finally pushed rthe Cat out of the way and ran to the ring. Goldberg then arrived but stayed clear of the ring a Nash finished clearing the ring - then Goldberg snuck in and speared Nash. The MIA ran to the rescue and threw Goldberg out iof the ring - giving Nash the win as the program faded.
RAW (live from Orlando, Florida) opens backstage where HHH confronts his wife about kissing Chris Jericho. Stephanie says that she didn't want him to do it and that she hated it. Helmsley then confronts the new commissioner Mick Foley about a title shot and is told him that he will face Rikishi tonight.
Eddie Guerrero defends his European Title against Chris Benoit in a short match which is spoiled when Cyna interferes and gets her man disqualified. Benoit then switches his attention to Chyna and applies the hold on her until officials break it up. Backstage after the break we see EMT's ministering to her injured arm.
Mick Foley comes out to deliver what I suspect will become a weekly rant. Is this going to be just more of the same tired old formula? Gimmick matches being doled out against the party in power's enemies..? Yep. Same old thing. Foley starts out by banning the worm...what?? No, he's kidding. Actually, his first act to flatter the hometown crowd - obviously this is going to be a running gag... Then, before he can say any more, the World Champ shows up to find out who his next opponent will be. His first words are to welcome his ex-partner back, which sets Foley off on a mutual respect rant then asks how Maivia feels...only to yell, "It doesn't matter how you feel!!!" - which even causes the Rock to crack a smile before he upbraids Foley for using his catch phrases. At this point Shane McMahon appears on the platform and delivers a rant of his own, tooting his own horn as usual. The crowd is not amused and tries to shout him down but he keeps on going right through it all. He concludes by suggesting that he should be the one to lead the WWF into the 21st century - so Foley interprets that as Shane saying that he wants to be the #1 contender!! He makes a match for Shane to challenge the Rock in the main event tonight!!
Rikishi defends his Intercontinental Title against HHH in a surprise match (considering the fact that HHH is trying to get himself into contention again for the World Title). On the other hand I suppose that being the IC Champ is one way to do that. The Champ dominates the early going after a shaky start but soon HHH turns things around. At one point HHH got the Champ into position for a Pedegree but was maneuvered out of it. The two of them end up brawling out on the floor and both are counted out. But that isn't the end of it. Chris Jericho runs out and tosses Triple H back insode so that Rikishi can put the stinkie face on him! The crowd, Rikishi and Too Cool all have a good laugh as HHH slinks away with Stephanie.
Backstage after the break, Foley is intimidated into putting Chris Jericho into a handicap match against the Road Dogg and X-Pac but warns HHH not to interfere at the cost of losing his match against Jericho at the next PPV.
Jeff Hardey had Lita in his corner as he faced Val Venis, who brought Trish Stratus to the ring with him. The fight went to the floor where Hardey dominated until Venis dropped him face first onto the ring steps (ouch!) Bck in the ring it was all Venis who pummeled his opponent in the corner then applied a submission hold which backfires when Jeff maneuvers him into a pinning predicament. Val is doing a pretty good job of grounding his smaller opponent throughout much of the match. But then he blows it by taking to the air himself and missing a forarm drop off the secod rope. Hardey gets airborn and turns the tables nicely. He delivers the Swanton but Trish is distracting the referee. Tazz runs in while the ref is occupied and chokes Hardey out so that Val can hit the Money Shot and take the pin.
At the top of the second hour, the NewNew Age Outlaws took on the Acolytes and the Millennium Bug (remember the handicap match arranged by the new commissionerto placate HHH? Foley came out and revealed just before the match that it would be DXD who were to be handicapped!) in a contest in which the DX team did surprisingly well - although they inevitably lost to the superior numbers. Backstage after the break, Stephanie and HHH stormed out of the building and drove away in their limo.
Up next - a Tag Team Title match pitting Edge and Christian against challengers the Undertaker and Kane. Except for Edge and Christian's superior teamwork, they might very well have lost this one in a hurry. As it is, Kurt Angle runs in and causes a DQ by attacking the Undertaker's knee from behind. The Scarey Brothers then leave their opponents laying in the ring before splitting together.
Dean Malenko comes to the ring and throws out an open challenge for his Light Heavyweight Title - which is answered by Crash Holly. The "Man of a Thousand Holds" seems to have abanoned all claim to that moniker by going to a straight brawling style these days. He wins quick with a powerbomb only to have Ivory come in to distract him so that Jaqueline can attack him from behind.
Kurt Angle comes to the ring with his opponent as yet a mystery. He does his usual banter to insult the Orlando crowd, then demands a "suitable" opponent...but get the Brooklyn Brawler instead. Steve Lombardi looks somewhat slimmed down these days - maybe he has just lost his baby fat... Angle protests whioch brings Foley out to explain that the Brawler is really Angle's partner against...the Dudley Boyz! As the match gets underway we notice that the Undertaker is watching on a monitor backstage. The Brawler proves that he hasn't improved much from his MVP days - in fact the Brawler/Angle team is no match for the D Boyz. Angle finally turns things around with one of his textbook suplexes. But then he hands it off to Lombardi, who throws the advantage away. Kurt gets disgusted and abandons his partner to his fate. The Dudleys "get some wood" on the hapless Brawler.
The Godfather (w/Garden Tools) took on Test with Trish Stratus at ringside and didn't fare too well from the outset. Meanwhile Steven Richards came out to cover up the girls with black sacks, thus providing some distraction so that Trish can whack her man's opponent and give Test the win.
Mick Foley runs into Shane McMahon and refuses to accept any excuses for the boss's son to not participate in his scheduled match against the Rock. In another part of the building, Al Snow blithly reads a poem to his ex-partner Steve Blackman as the latter fought off challengers to his Hardcore Title (Kaientai, the Posse, etc.) At WWF New York, Terri Runnels is entertaining a bunch of sailors...
In the main event, Shane McMahon challenged the Rock (albeit rather reluctantly) for the WWF Heavyweight Title. You could tell this would be a short match since the Rock was still being interviewed backstage at 10:58 PM. As Shane makes his way limping to the ring we are shown how the younger McMahon was thrown through a table at the KOR PPV. Shane tries to hold off his opponent with words, complaining that he is injured, and saying that he would kick Maivia's butt if he was feeling better. He offers the Rock a chance to join him and take over the power in the WWF, with the rest of his family seemingly out of the way. Maivia gives his answer...with his fists. Then Chris Benoit ran in and hit the Rock with a chair, thus ending the match, then slaps a Crippler Crossface on the Champion as Shane lays the boots in. Shane then drives the referee and other officials from the ring with the chair while Benioit continues to apply the crossface and Maivia continues to struggle against it. The Commissioner finally comes out and breaks it up as the Rock writhes in pain, the bad guys retreat and the program fades.
That's it for now. I'll be back on Saturday morning. Until then...
At least that's the way I see it...
Editor, Solie's Wrestling Newsletter
This page is a personal tribute andis in no way connected to any of the wrestling promotions mentioned on it. It is dedicated to the Dean of Wrestling announcers, Gordon Solie.
Copyright 2000 - Jump City Productions