Saturday, November 13, 2004
# Posted 1:12 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
After dinner, I headed down to Blockbuster and picked up the 2-disc DVD Edition of Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story. I wasn't sure to expect. Would it be a collection of highlights? A serious biography of one of the greatest pro-wrestlers ever?
The biopic itself is around an hour and twenty minutes long. Its biggest drawback is that it can't decide whether or not to pretend that wrestling is real, or just to appeal straight out to mature fans by taking about the artistry involved in its being "fake".
Early in his career, Benoit almost crippled a wrestler by accidentally dropping him on his head. At this point is the film, there is no question that wrestling is "fake". Benoit talks about how he never intended to hurt his opponent but how the accident made him realize how dangerous professional wrestling is. However, promoter Paul Heyman decided that Benoit could win over the fans by pretending that he had intended to hospitalize his opponent. From then on, Benoit was known as 'The Crippler'.
But when it comes to Benoit's time in the WWF (now the WWE), he acts is if is his victories are "real". The culmination of the film is Benoit's victory at Wrestlemania XX this May in Madison Square Garden, when he won the WWE title for the first time.
Apparently, that victory really did mean a lot to Benoit. He actually cried in the ring, and his wife stepped out of the crowd and into the ring in order to hug him. But why was that moment so special? What does being champion mean in a "fake" sport?
More broadly, this element of make-believe prevents Benoit from talking about numerous aspects of wrestling that are most interesting to fans. How does he feel about the development of his character over time? Never considered one of the more charismatic wrestlers, Benoit made it to the top because of sheer acrobatic ability and physical conditioning.
How does Benoit feel about the evolution of the sport in recent years? Has he been comfortable with the more entertainment-oriented style of the WWF? On the other hand, the acrobatic sophistication of WWE wrestling has increased dramatically in recent years, a development which presumably helped Benoit.
The fact that WWE produced the film also limits who we see interviews. Sadly, this means that we don't get to talk to either Stu Hart or his son Bret 'The Hitman' Hart, both of whom played extremely influential roles in both Benoit's personal life as well as his career.
But you know what? Even if you don't watch the Benoit bio (which is worth it just for the pictures of him as a teenager), you should rent or buy this DVD just for the bonus footage, which includes over two and a half hours of Benoit's classic matches. (And don't even think about getting the VHS version, which only has the bio.)
So far, I've only watched two of the fifteen matches in the set. In the first match, from back in 1990, Benoit fights Jushin Liger for an IGWA title in Japan. The array of holds both men use is simply unbelievable. There were at least a half-dozen submission moves that I'd never seen before in North American wrestling. Best of all are the ones where Liger locks in the hold, then pivots onto his back, hoisting Benoit into the air while bending his limbs at the sametime.
The second match I watched was the main event from Wrestlemania XX, the three-way match in which Benoit defeated Triple H and Shawn Michaels to take home the world title for the very first time. It's an excellent match, but not historic. Nonetheless, it's worth it for the emotion alone, when Benoit breaks down at the end and celebrates reaching the pinnacle of his profession after eighteen long years.
Viva el Crippler!
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