By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
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A&E Network and WWE Studios are partners in Biography: WWE Legends (formerly known as World Wrestling Federation), a new run of biographies about the legends of wrestling. The decision on who to first focus on must’ve been tough. To see true alumni, namely Hulk Hogan, interviewed about their time with the talents from the past two decades, made for a great retrospective.
There are eight specials and the last documentary about Bret Hart aired last weekend. To binge watch these two hour specials isn’t possible, but to watch them over successive days than wait reveals a lot more about the sport turned entertainment spectacle. Although each piece doesn’t get into the most guarded secrets or details that can be read from a Wikipedia styled biography, I found the series to be a terrific primer to get newcomers and the curious up to date on the talents who became Stone Cold Steve Austin, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Booker T, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mick Foley and Ultimate Warrior.
Not all of these people stood out, but I did find Booker T’s charm a total gem in the spotlight about him. From those who are still living and are looking back, they’re not talking about all the demons they faced or go into huge lengths about their youth which led to them wanting to partake in wrestling as a proper sport (the part of their life I’m really curious about). Randy perhaps had the most problems to deal with. Not even The Undertaker can exorcise them.
We get a fairly good nostalgia trip and history about what this sports entertainment business is about, even before it became a crazy arena spectacle. One nice mention is in how the South East of America operated as fiefdoms, before it eventually became one huge brand. These documentaries doesn’t always reveal how much of an influence WWE is in other media (missing the boat on crossover into comic books and cartoons) and this segment can use an expansion.
The mystique about WWE wasn’t as openly known when they were developing this style genre entertainment. This company acknowledged that they’re an act in 1989 and most fans are okay with it. They go to these spectacles as to blow off steam and be patrons to something akin to the days of yore in Roman coliseums. There, they can root for their favourite gladiator. The fact that some talents have crossed over to becoming movie actors, appearing in comic books and lending their voice in cartoons says it all.
I was particularly engaged in the piece about Mick Foley, since he’s ventured into publishing children’s books and is a stand-up comic these days. He’s come a super long way in his career. He’s taken a lot of damage and refuses to stay down, despite losing an ear or having blood all over him. Everyone knows a lot of the fights are executed for maximum effect for the video cameras to record. The hurt is real, and technically, these wrestlers are training so they can take the blunt damage and learn how to sell the pain.
Mark “The Undertaker” Calloway is a human when the makeup and hat are off. He’s a gentle giant of a man, and his presence in this series says it all as he worked his way to the top. He has his own series, The Last Ride (which looks at how this character developed over time and eventual retirement) was probably filmed the same time Biography’s cameras were rolling. In between his documentary and this series, I got to know more about these people as filtered through the WWE lens. Ever since I saw him in Poltergeist: The Legacy, I’ve been enthralled by the roles he put himself into.
Steve Austin’s life is intriguing. He was the WWE’s biggest star in the 90s and became a pop culture icon. Just how he became the persona we recognize him for made for a terrific watch. From his early days to becoming a podcaster, he’ll never be away from the ring 100%. Despite the sacrifices he’s made, this look about the person is important.
Shawn Michaels is a rock n roll star. He did the drugs, the alcohol and everything else that epitomized that stigma. When he took a fall that would cost him his career, the fact he found god is a movie in itself. His recovery may well have been a miracle since he had nothing to fall back to when he was damaged goods.
The Hart family been through it all. From Stu Hart’s days to wrestling (when it was an actual sport) to semi-retirement when it was more entertainment based, training new talents and his own kids in how to take a stun was important. Both Bret and Owen Hart are looked at. Sadly, the younger of the two died on stage. Some of the pain is examined, and this look back is needed.
I’d love to see the next season focus on the women who were involved throughout the development of this sports entertainment industry. Cyndi Lauper’s involvement was important in the piece on Michaels, and it helped bring this wrestling culture to the mainstream. I feel it is time these ladies deserve a proper examination. They’re not all divas, or members of GLOW. Some were serious instead of being eye candy for the male fans.