Monday, February 12, 2007

Anybody want a peanut?

I remember my brother had a picture of Stone Cold Steve Austin on his wall. It seemed out of place next to photos of a bear catching a fish, and a hawk soaring in clear blue sky. I remember living in Calgary and reading an article on a wrestler, I think named 'Hart,' who fell to his death. They said wrestling was a family affair, and so it was as sad as a man who died buggy racing at the Stampede around that time. I know the buggy overturned, but I never understood what the wrestler was trying to do up in the rafters. I remember watching Hulk Hogan in reassuring roles of contrast as the gruff but wonderful babysitter in at least one movie I remember nothing else about. Him I liked. But mostly I remember Andre the Giant... as Fezzik, William Goldman's strongest man there ever was.

(And I do realize this is fictional character development, and must have nothing to do with real wrestling) but as the story goes Fezzik grew up amazingly fast and strong in body. He was born for wrestling - except for a disinclination for violence. In a match against the reigning king he dwarfed his competition, but was a perfect 'evil' foil - all his holds were backwards and the smaller man toyed with him, taunted him for the crowds. Until Fezzik was able to wrap his arms around the master wrestler, and then all he had to do... was squeeze. The crowd boo'd him, as every crowd would boo, (unless they were hissing). His parents wanted him to throw matches, to display some weakness in order to gain some favour. Eventually he would fight groups, which the crowds enjoyed. That is, until he grew too strong and too skilled even for this...

In retrospect, the story of Fezzik sounds more like the story of a real wrestler than I believed it would. In the course of Fezzik's development, we see hints not only of his own unintentional creation of a wrestling persona, but how this persona existed in opposition to those of the wrestlers and groups he was matched against. Though in reality gentle and soft-hearted, in the ring he was always a goliath, and no audience would allow him to be anything else. After all, the thrill is in the belief that the giant will be toppled. His successes came when he learned to cripple himself for the sake of the performance. When he would let matches drag on and when he set himself against stronger coalitions.

Andre the Giant was wrestling as Goldman wrote his book, and might have provided the real inspiration for Fezzik. Yet Andre seems to have always remained popular, which is a curious disjuncture from Fezzik's ultimate failure to maintain a place in the wrestling circuit. Perhaps this is due to the magnified perfection neccessary in fiction? Or it may have to do with the enjoyment of the spectacle which is found in real life, but would not have allowed Fezzik's story to progress? Or maybe there is a difference between Andre, who knew something more about wrestling than just how to wrestle, and Fezzik, who never really understood the crowds at all? At any rate, what I remember about Fezzik (who I will always picture as Andre) is that his adventures only came after the wrestling, when there was room to breathe outside the ring. As one man against any other force he is ever too strong for sympathy, though as a pawn in a greater match he is perfect. The final question this begs is how wrestlers today bridge the gap between in-the-ring and outside-the-ring. Of course I don't know, but I think this is a topic we'll ponder as the semester continues.


Alex Maki said...

I'm just gonna tell you that I died cracking up after reading your title. The Princess Bride is a favorite movie of mine and that is one of the greatest lines in the movie.

I liked your assessment on Fezzik and comparing him to Andre. I hope you become more knowledgable on pro wrestling by taking this course.

Sam Ford said...

Andre's performance in The Princess Bride has been one of his most enduring roles, but I think Tess is right in the points she makes about the similarities between Andre and the character.

Andre is one of the most beloved figures in wrestling history, and his heel turn in the 1980s was driven by the fact that he had played the gentle giant for so long. Of course, before he left the company, they mnaaged to make him the "good guy" once again, but Andre belongs in that category with Gorgeous George, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and a few others, as guys who became well-known outside the world of pro wrestling.

As for your writing about the Hart family in Calgary, we'll be spending quite a bit of time talking about them, first with a documentary about Bret Hart and later talking about the unfortunate death of Owen.

Peter "The Malcontent" Rauch said...

Interesting post, and a further reminder that I need to actually read that book. Re: the "real" adventures following the wrestling, this seems to be a pretty standard rule for narratives about certain sports. There seems to be a tendency towards the fewest levels of mediation, i.e. a fixed match in wrestling that takes place in real life (which is assumed by most to be more like a "shoot" on a day to day basis, at least since the Zoroastrians set up shop) is ok, but a fixed match in a novel tends not to generate the same involvement. Because fiction is itself a "work," a match that is a shoot within the fictive world is oddly equivalent to a work in this one.

I'm not sure if what I just wrote was blindingly obvious. I hope not. At any rate, I now have an incredible desire to make my girlfriend watch the Street Fighter II anime.