Beyond the Mat is a 1999 documentary directed by Barry W. Blaustein. The movie focuses on the lives of professional wrestlers outside of the ring, primarily Mick Foley, Terry Funk, and Jake Roberts, as well as some aspiring wrestlers. It heavily focuses on the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and follows Extreme Championship Wrestling during its rise in popularity and many other independent wrestlers and organizations.
The film was originally released in American theaters in March 2000 and was later released on DVD.
The film begins with director Barry Blaustein discussing his love for professional wrestling and clips of him viewing employees of the World Wrestling Federation and Extreme Championship Wrestling. He then decides to travel the United States over a three-year period, endeavoring to understand the mindset of someone who would voluntarily choose to become a professional wrestler. Blaustein interviews a wide variety of wrestling personalities and ascertains their motivations.
Blaustein focuses on three famous wrestlers, one at the height of his career (Mick Foley, aka "Mankind"), one contemplating retirement (Terry Funk) and one at a career low (Jake "The Snake" Roberts). He begins by following Funk, a 53-year-old man in need of knee surgery who appears unable to retire, despite the mounting toll wrestling is taking on his body. Blaustein follows him as he competes at hardcore wrestling promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling's first pay-per-view event Barely Legal.
Funk's sometimes in-ring rival, Foley is profiled next. He has been taking increasingly risky falls (or "bumps") and blows to the head, and at one point is heard talking incoherently as the result of a fall (from his Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker at King of the Ring in 1998) which briefly rendered him unconscious. Clips of Foley with his wife and children are spliced with the clips of him risking his body for the sport. Later, in the film's climax, his wife and young children watch in horror from the front of the audience during Foley's "I Quit" match at the 1999 Royal Rumble, wherein he takes multiple unprotected shots to the head by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson with a steel folding chair.
Lastly, Roberts is a wrestler whose height of popularity was in the 1980s and is a crack cocaine addict, estranged from his daughter. Although he was once one of the more famous wrestlers in America, performing in front of tens of thousands of fans, he is now wrestling in small-town venues. In the course of the film, Roberts is shown smoking crack cocaine in a hotel room and attempting to reconcile with his daughter, as well as musing aloud about his increasingly illicit sexual dalliances while traveling.
The careers of the three successful wrestlers are contrasted with those of wrestlers who have not yet achieved comparable success, such as two men getting started in the sport of wrestling, Tony Jones and Michael Modest, who are granted a tryout match for the WWF. In addition, Darren Drozdov is a former NFL football player who is shown in an interview with Vince McMahon. Drozdov, who can vomit at will, is called on by McMahon to vomit in a bucket as a demonstration of his ability—an ability which earned him the ring name "Puke"—which McMahon plans to use as part of Drozdov's new in-ring persona. Drozdov becomes a WWF wrestler, but at the end of the film, it is revealed that Droz was paralyzed in an in-ring accident from a botched maneuver several months later.
Production and release
Blaustein decided to do a documentary about professional wrestling after being outed as a closet professional wrestling fan. His original budget was $500,000, which was funded by the company Imagine. He shot footage for the film over a span of three to five years.
World Championship Wrestling refused to participate in the film. Blaustein approached the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) about involving the company in the film in 1997. WWF chairman Vince McMahon originally allowed Blaustein full access to behind-the-scenes aspects of his company, but later tried to pull out of their deal.
Jake Roberts claims that he was told the film was going to be used to help children, but that never transpired. Blaustein claims the opposite. In response to why he thought Roberts made the allegations, Blaustein responded, "I don't know why. Jake's looking for publicity for himself, maybe. I don't know. He has problems with reality. I wish Jake all the best."
Beyond the Mat was released in theaters in the United States in March 2000. The film was later released on DVD, including extra footage and cast interviews. An unrated director's cut edition dubbed Special Ringside Edition was released on DVD in March 2004. This version featured a new introduction and additional footage, as well as an interview with Foley and Jesse Ventura.
In 2000, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly rated the film a B-, but states that "Beyond the Mat is entirely dependent on, and shaped by, the good stuff the director happens to get, rather than driven by hard questions a journalist might want answered."
Paul Tatara of CNN declared that "Blaustein seems to think that he's humanizing these guys by showing how "normal" they are out of the ring, but he unintentionally makes their penchant for self-mutilation all the more inexplicable. There are a couple of laughs in the movie, but the overall effect is much more depressing than it is humorous."
Beyond the Mat also received some critical acclaim. It was named Best Documentary at the Cinequest Film Festival and was also nominated by the Director's Guild Association for best documentary and best director. The book The 100 Best Movies You've Never Seen includes Beyond the Mat in its list, claiming that "the film works on an almost Shakespearean level."
After viewing the film, McMahon removed all advertising for it from WWF broadcasts. As a result, Lions Gate Films, the film's distributor, considered filing a lawsuit for restraint of trade. Spokespeople for the WWF, however, claimed that advertising was pulled because of a policy against advertising for other wrestling companies or ventures. Blaustein also claimed that McMahon ordered his wrestlers, including Mick Foley, not to speak about the film publicly. Foley, however, did appear on Larry King Live with Blaustein to help promote the film. As a result, the tag line of the movie became "The Movie Vince McMahon Didn't Want You to See!".
Roddy Piper also appeared with Blaustein on Larry King Live to discuss the professional wrestling business. He called the movie, "the best documentary ever made on professional wrestling." Likewise, Hulk Hogan expressed an interest in being in the next wrestling documentary should Blaustein make one.
In June 2011 Barry Blaustein did an extensive one-hour interview on 'Review a Wai' with John Pollock discussing the problems of putting the documentary together with Vince McMahon's blessing. In the interview Blaustein revealed that after the first viewing it was Linda McMahon who was more upset than Vince due to the portrayal of the company in the documentary and not emphasizing the 'fun' in professional wrestling. Blaustein also mentioned problems with certain talent such as Steve Austin refusing to appear on camera and Pitbull #2 once throwing a garbage can at the crew, and then suggesting the incident to be used in the film.
- Bloodstained Memoirs, a 2009 professional wrestling documentary.
- Beyond the Mat at the Internet Movie Database