I want to thank one of my favorite film directors, Darren Aronsky of Pi (the mathematical sign not what you eat or desire) fame, for making a serious film, The Wrestler, about a very serious American cultural phenomena and that is pro wrestling.
In an interview with the BBC Aronsky stated that this was the first serious film ever made about wrestling. Contrast this to my favorite sport of boxing, which has had hundreds of serious films made about it including classics like Raging Bull, Rocky and Million Dollar Baby
The reason there have been no serious films about wrestling coming out of Hollywood I believe is because wrestling is seen as a fake and comical joke by many people. I remember Andy Rooney once saying on 60 Minutes that people who watch wrestling should not be able to vote. Well, that would be taking a lot of people out of the voter rolls since wrestling is the number watched programming for Latinos in America and has millions of other rabid fans from all races.
This film, staring Mickey Rourke, a guy I like a lot (hey he is an ex-boxer with an IRA tattoo), is a must see. It is more about life than wrestling as the character played by Rourke is broke and struggles to make ends meet living in a New Jersey trailer park and working at a supermarket while still wrestling on the indie circuit. His body is failing from all the punishment it has taken over the years, he is estranged from his grown daughter, and his only friend is an aging and lonely stripper. There are no Hollywood twists and turns and there is no happy ending. Real indie wrestlers and fans are used and this is a film based in New Jersey where you hear real working-class Jersey accents and see immigrants unlike in a lot of Hollywood films.
Now, I very seldom watch wrestling myself anymore. A lot of this has to do with the fact that I am not happy with the direction the industry has taken. Old school wrestling was based on a territorial system. Most of North America (and other parts of the world including Japan and New Zealand) was regulated by the territorial promotions of the National Wrestling Alliance.
Some of the legendary territories of the NWA were the St. Louis Wrestling Club of promoters Sam Muchnik and later Pat O’Connor. The Mid-Atlantic territory of Jim Crocket Promotions in Carolinas, Virginia, DC Area and Georgia. The Graham brother’s promotion in Florida, Carlos Colon in Puerto Rico, Calgary Stampede Wrestling and many others.
The other major organizations were the American Wrestling Association based in Minnesota and covering the upper Midwest and parts of Canada. This promotion was mostly run by the legendary trainer Verne Gagne. Then you had what would later become the WWF and then the WWE based in New York and ran by Vince McMahon, Sr. and later by Jr.
It is McMahon that made the working man’s opera, the violent theater to the masses, the ultimate good versus evil show, into a cartoon. Not only did McMahon turn his promotion into one heavy on steroid using muscle bound greased down guys and half-naked women in goofy story lines and short matches; but he attacked and ultimately destroyed the territorial system and thus ruined wrestling.
How else did he ruin wrestling?
No Blood, No More Hardcore. In order to go more mainstream and be friendly to TV moms he took hardcore out of wrestling. So, in his operation, wrestlers and matches like this would have no place.
Abdullah the Butcher V. Chief Wahoo McDaniel
No More Local Legends. As the local system was broke down local legends, who in many cases were the most popular celebrities in their local markets, like Jerry “the King” Lawler in Memphis and the Von Erich Brothers in Texas, no longer had a place in a national operation. Many smaller towns, that were huge wrestling towns, like Greensboro, NC and Norfolk, VA very seldom even have wrestling shows any more because of the nationalized system.