“There’s nothing like it in American show biz. It’s part comedy and part burlesque. It’s raw drama. It’s not Crime and Punishment. And it doesn’t pretend to be Masterpiece Theater.” Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University on professional wrestling
This past week was a big week in wrestling. You may have missed it so I thought I’d fill you in on the celebrations and the spectacle. I will preface this by saying that I haven’t really followed wrestling of any form since I was about ten and watched professional wrestling on TV.
TV Announcer: “It looks like this match is over…wait, wait…he’s pulling a foreign object out of his pants…it looks like brass knuckles.” Never once did I ask how those brass knuckles, hidden in those tight underwear-like pants, went unnoticed by the ref the entire rest of the match. I was too caught up in the play.
Other than Dusty Rhodes I don’t remember any names, but I do remember the body slams, the jumping off the ropes, the sleeper holds, and the chair over the back move. High drama for a ten year old growing up in Central Florida before video games.
Last Sunday 74,635 people (a record for the Orlando Citrus Bowl) gathered for WrestleMania XXIV. I remember going to a Super Bowl of Rock concert at the Citrus Bowl as a teenager back in the day and I gotta tell you that it was a transcendent moment looking out at a sea of flickering lighters in the summer night and hearing 60,000 people singing “Against the Wind” along with Bob Seger. I can imagine the atmosphere last Sunday.
The event last week was called “The Biggest WrestleMania Under the Sun” and over 40,000 tickets were sold in 30 minutes. Festivities lasted for five days and Snoop Dogg was the Master of Ceremonies. Internationally the main event was also on pay-per-view for $54.99 making it was one of the largest pay-per-view events in history with over a million buys. Do the math on $54.99 times a million.
Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) have tapped into a multi-billion dollar melodrama. Is it Hollywood’s competition or your future work? Someone has to write those wrestling storylines.
“To me, wrestling is just like watching a movie, or better yet a television series.” Colin Vassallo, editor of Wrestling-Online Newsletter was recently quoted as saying in an Orlando Sentinel article by Dave Darling, “It has good guys, bad guys, the women and the action. And what more would young men want to watch on television?”
Even boxing champion Floyd Mayweather got into the WrestleManna act and I read he even used good ole’ brass knuckles to knock out his opponent. Some tricks never fade away. Shakespeare had to compete with public hangings and as screenwriters and filmmakers you have to compete with professional wrestling and NASCAR. It’s good to know what you’re up against as well as what’s considered popular culture.
Back here in Iowa, Iowa Governor Chet Culver proclaimed last Thursday “University of Iowa Wrestling Day ” in the state of Iowa. It doesn’t get the same press and coverage as March Madness, but two weeks ago in St. Louis the Iowa Hawkeyes wrestling team won the school’s 21 NCAA title.
1972 Olympic champion wrestler Dan Gable once coached the University of Iowa to nine straight NCAA championships. And that’s the real deal — no brass knuckles. But still plenty of drama. In fact, writer John Irving (a former wrestler) is developing a movie on Gable’s life. Gable won every single high school and college match except for his last one.
Last Thursday was also the 100 Anniversary of Iowan Frank Gotch defeating George “The Russian Lion” Hackenschmidt for the world heavyweight wrestling championship. I had never heard of Gotch, but apparently this event in its day was a bit like Seabiscuit. According to Jim Neson of the Waterloo Courier it was front page sports news for the papers in New York and L.A. and a trip to the white house for Gotch to meet president Teddy Roosevelt.
And a play for the farmer turned wrestler toured up and down the east coast. (If anyone has a copy of this play I’d love to read it.) So wrestling and drama have gone hand in hand for a long time.
Director Darren Aronfsky (Pi, The Fountain) recently wrapped production on Robert Siegel’s script The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke as a long haired pro wrestler past his prime looking for a comeback. Marisa Tomei plays his stripper girlfriend and it’s said to feature a lot 80’s music. For some reason I’m sensing a lot of on screen perspiration. Why didn’t they just title it 9 1/2 Rounds?
Aren’t the Spider-Man movies just a glorified wrestling match with costume changes, over the top fights, and a girl thrown in the mix? This wrestling stuff is primal and probably has been side by side with storytelling since the beginning of time.
If there’s one thing every screenwriter can learn from professional wrestling it’s this: when you character is running against the wind and all seems lost, that’s the time for them to pull out their brass knuckles. It works every time.
Come to think of it, almost thirty years later, Seger lyrics still resinate:
Well those drifter days are past me now
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out
Against the wind
I’m still runnin’ against the wind
I’m older now but still still runnin’
Against the wind
If you choose a life in the arts you will face many days when you’re runnin’ against the wind. You need lots of tenacity and determination…and it doesn’t hurt to have a pair of brass knuckles.