Monday, May 7, 2007

Comparing the Documentaries

The two documentaries we watched in class, Beyond the Mat (BTM) and The Mania of Wrestlemania (TMOW) take you behind the scenes of a wrestling show. The two, however, are very different in content and production quality. This results mostly because TMOW was produced by the WWE and BTM wasn’t. Even though the documentaries differ greatly, they give different perspectives on what goes on when wrestlers aren’t performing.

BTM felt more like a documentary than TMOW. The camera-work, candid interviews with wrestlers, and issues dealt with seem more real than TMOW. TMOW appears to be more like a scripted documentary that aims to promote the Wrestlemania event. Even though Vince appears more in BTM than TMOW, he had no control over BTM’s production. The wrestlers in BTM speak more openly, unlike TMOW where wrestlers have to be more cautious about what they say.

I thought TMOW was surprisingly short. I think this was done intentionally as a way to keep people’s interest. It appeared that the documentary was centered around a few shocking images (injuries from Stone Cold, Brock Lesnar, and Kurt Angle) that drove the stories. I almost forgot that there was a bit on the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels because there was nothing really interesting about the stories. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to stay interested in it if it had lasted another half hour.

Time wasn’t even an issue for BTM. I was able to get involved in every story told and it felt like they weren’t performing for the camera. There was conflict within each story that was sometimes unresolved, unlike TMOW. It shows how stories don’t always have a happy ending in real life. I also felt like I was able to follow the stories more easily in BTM. I never saw Wrestlemania XIX and I felt like could’ve appreciated the documentary if I had watched wrestling during this time period. BTM did not require knowledge of the time periods to understand the effects that wrestling had on the lives of those in the documentary.

The stories in both documentaries have a similar structure, but the content is contrasting. TMOW tells different stories about Wrestlemania XIX from the wrestler’s perspective. It does not really go beyond the mat like the other documentary. It attempts to bring in what the wrestler’s families were feeling about injuries and matches, but it seems very contrived. BTM, on the other hand, gives more than just a story about a wrestling match. It details some of the internal and external conflicts that wrestlers were going through away from the spotlight. It shows how wrestling has affected the wrestlers and their families in ways that have never been seen before. I would have never known about this dark side of wrestling if it wasn’t for this documentary.


Sam Ford said...

Ismael, you bring up some interesting points about these two films. Beyond the Mat feels like a documentary in a way that Mania of Wrestlemania doesn't, and that means that Blaustein both knows how to perform a documentary in a more traditional way but also that the two pieces were trying to achieve much different goals, as you point out.

Mania's length was because it was originally shown as an hour special on UPN, so this is basically that show with the commercials pulled out. However, the two aim to show you very different things. The WWE film has a definiting beginning and end because it focuses on how one WWE PPV was put together and the events that happened the night before and after. It is an attempt to mythologize an event and to show that a lot of personal sacrifice goes into the show that happens "on stage."

You are right that the open-endedness of Beyond the Mat gives the viewer a much different feeling, especially since it focuses almost completely on life at home rather than life backstage.

Anonymous said...

While I generally agree with your comparisions between these two pieces, I was actually very pleased with how much was revealed by the WWE in 'Mania', and of course the spectacular production values that the WWE post-prod teams bring are always wonderful. For Vince and co. to have Angle admit that he basically couldn't function at that point without significant amounts of painkillers (which led to a someone significant addition later on) is a significant indicator of how much the WWE wanted this to be (or appear to be) an honest even blunt look behind the scenes at the pressures of Wrestlemania and the wrestling world in general.
I felt in contrast that Beyond the Mat was trying to cover the broadest spectrum of wrestling truthfully, but also was trying to build or portray some plot or conflict that would keep the audience invested. They both have a bit of bias to them, but with the WWE being so honest about what basically amounts to a lot of badness surrounding that wrestlmania (Kurt's neck, Stone Cold's retirement and injuries, Brock's retarded shooting star-> concussion) it felt that 'Mania' was a slightly braver piece than 'Beyond the Mat', as the WWE was taking a bigger chance revealing the faults and problems inherent in wrestling. The shiney production values don't hurt either, but then again I'm a media whore in that way.

Sam Ford said...

I think that you make a point that I was trying to get at, too, Deirdre, that there is something admirable in WWE's admitting the physical injuries of its wrestlers and what it takes to put Wrestlemania together, considering that WWE would have more to lose at revealing some truths about the toll wrestling takes on the performers than Blaustein. When I saw Mania of Wrestlemania, I was quite shocked at how WWE told stories that I had already known through the Wrestling Observer but which would probably have been news to many of the casual wrestling fans who watched WM XIX.

Omar said...

In the tradition of the scripted documentary WWE seems to follow through with their Mania of Wrestlemania . As WWE documenting a WWE event it does seem like they are simply hyping up the audience to their Wrestlemania venue. Various series of "shocking" images appear to command your interest.

When you compare Mania to Beyond the Mat you make a lot of interesting contrasts the make the latter appear more documentary-like. But I think it raises the question of what constitutes a documentary. Is Beyond the Mat better at tell the true story simply because it conforms to the norms of the traditional documentary? The idea makes me wary to trust either or any documentary.

Sam Ford said...

Omar, you are wise never to "trust" a documentary any more than you would trust any performance. That does not mean they are powerful stories, but getting lost in believing something is definite truth is always a slippery slope...