Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Barry W. Blaustein

On Wrestlers, Wrestling and Woody Allen

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Barry Blaustein is a family man and a successful, if not terribly distinguished, Hollywood screenwriter. His credits include Police Academy 2 (1985), Coming to America (1988), Boomerang (1992), The Nutty Professor (1996), and its sequel due out this summer.

He's also a wrestling fan. Once in the closet and now out for good. "I've been a wrestling fan all my life. I knew this weird bizarre world was back there. The most interesting thing in wrestling is not in the ring. I hadn't told a lot of people I was a wrestling fan. So my wife threw a surprise birthday party for me, and everyone I knew was there. And I heard a voice over a microphone, a Dusty Rhodes voice, "This is your life." I walk out, and there's a big birthday cake with me as a wrestler. And I was very flattered. That was a lot of work my wife put into it. But I was really embarrassed because now people knew I liked wrestling."

He liked it so much, he began production on a documentary -- the ultimate behind the scenes wrestling documentary, now called Beyond the Mat. And although Blaustein managed to get into the offices of the WWF, president Vince McMahon is now pulling out all the stops to keep the movie from being shown. McMahon pulled the paid advertisements two hours before they were scheduled to run during the WWF's broadcasted shows. Going even further, he convinced the USA Network, UPN, and other channels not to run the ads during any of their programming, wrestling-related or not. "It hurt the film tremendously," says Blaustein. "That's the sort of power that he has. And the scary part is that these companies are bowing down, because they want Vincent's contract. And you could say, 'well, it's just a wrestling film.' But it could happen to any filmmaker who has an independent voice. They can squash you, and these guys are not standing up to them."

Blaustein continues. "The movie was made for a half-million dollars, which is nothing for a documentary. What happened was that Vince said, 'you know, you're never going to make it for that kind of money. What if I triple your budget?' And I said, 'you know Vince, it's a documentary, and I want it to be independent. I'm really not doing this for money.' During the course of making the movie, Vince offered me money again, to buy the film. Vince usually doesn't hear the word 'no.' I have a lot of respect for him in a lot of ways, but Vince is a bully and I'm not one of his wrestlers and I can't be bullied around."

McMahon is known to wrestling fans not only as the president of the WWF, but as one of its wrestlers. McMahon uses his status as "the boss" to play the perpetual foil in the ring. He's the wrestler fans love to hate. "Vince is a lot like a lot of people in wrestling. He's been playing this character so long, of being the S.O.B. in the ring, that he feels he's gotta act that way outside of it."

On a much smaller scale, McMahon's antics are a little like William Randolph Hearst's trying to suppress Citizen Kane (1941). "I'm not comparing myself to Orson Welles," says Blaustein, "although if I keep eating like I've been eating on this press tour I will (soon) be resembling Orson Welles."

The most controversial scene in the movie, and one that McMahon had trouble with, was following Mick Foley's (aka Mankind's) match with The Rock. Foley gets beaten pretty badly (the Rock smashes him in the head with a metal chair several times) and needs stitches. Blaustein films the reactions of Foley's wife, Colette, and kids, Noelle and Dewey, who literally burst into tears. Later, Blaustein takes the footage to Foley's house and shows it to him. It's powerful and heartbreaking. "That was the hardest thing for me to do in making this movie. My editor told me, 'don't show it to him.' My wife was telling me, 'don't show it to him.' You spend a lot of time with these people and you become close to them. But I showed it to him for two reasons. One, I thought it was important that he see it. And secondly, I didn't want the last image of Mick to be 'bad father.' Because he's not a bad father. He's a wonderful father."

Blaustein's camera can't help but turn on Foley's daughter Noelle, who has as much charm and charisma as Hallie Kate Eisenberg. "Man is she adorable," Blaustein exclaims. "I'll tell you something that shows what kind of a person Mick is. When he saw the movie, he said, 'Dewey's in it as much as Noelle, isn't he?'"

Another intriguing character in the film whose life off the mat is entirely different from what you'd expect is Chyna, the huge female wrestler who looks like she might be a man in drag. But sadly, she's not in the movie very much. "There'll be more of her in the DVD if the movie does well. They promised me [I could add it in] because I really like Chyna a lot. I really like her as a person. But I didn't want to make the movie talking heads -- just straight interviews, and I wasn't able to spend enough time with her to develop a real story. Though she is wonderful. She's very funny, very sharp, and very girl-like. She likes doing her nails and shopping. She had a real unusual upbringing. She was a UN Scholar, she was in the Peace Corps. She'd had like 6000 jobs. She sang in a band in a cocktail lounge, although I could never get her to sing for me." Chyna is usually seen wearing leather thongs and dominatrix outfits. "You know what she looks best in? She looks best in just jeans and a turtleneck, or something like that, and hair down. She's a good person. I think she'll get out of this racket eventually."

But the biggest freaks in the movie appear when Blaustein accompanies black wrestler New Jack to a Hollywood screen test. The casting agents start to babble about how he'd make a great sidekick, or something. The scene is so surreal it makes the wrestlers look like regular people. Blaustein says, "That was so bizarre! You couldn't write those people! People ask me if those were actors!"

Blaustein managed to get a classic scene from Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) into his movie in which Max Von Sydow, playing a snooty painter, asks his girlfriend Barbara Hershey, "Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?" Blaustein says that this is the first time Allen has ever granted permission to use one of his clips in anything. "I was excited because I wanted the clip and also because at the end I always wanted to put 'Special Thanks to Woody Allen and Afa the Wild Samoan.'" He laughs. "But it was really nice of him."

See also: Beyond the Mat.

March 6, 2000

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