11/9/1998 1:16:04 PM
Solie's Wrestling Newsletter Reveiw
that this is a wonderful film. And I don't mean that
it is a "wonderful film about wrestling", I mean it is a powerful,
BRET HART, Wrestling with Shadows
Film review by Earl Oliver
Volume 3, Issue 379 - November 8, 1998
Why Vince, Why..?
a review of the film
BRET HART, Wrestling with Shadows
by Earl Oliver
First I have to say that this is a wonderful film. And I don't mean that
it is a "wonderful film about wrestling", I mean it is a powerful,
amazing documentary that tells a tale that really needs to be told.
The beauty of this movie is that the director didn't start out to tell
the story of what Dave Meltzer has called "The Biggest Doublecross in
the History of Professional Wrestling."
In fact, the filming began about a year before that infamous incident.
At that time, the film crew was hoping to get an unprecedented look
behind the scenes of the World Wrestling Federation. What they got in
the end was the most dramatic story ever in the history of wrestling.
The press release that accompanied my preview copy states that this film
is "...a story about loyalty and betrayal, money and greed, dignity and
disgrace. It's about fathers and sons, fans and icons, and keeping one's
integrity in a world of moral uncertainty. In a word, it's a film about
And I agree.
Early in the film we visit the Hart family in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Stu Hart, the legendary promoter of Stampede Wrestling, told his young
wife Helen in the beginning that they would be in the wrestling business
for "...maybe a couple of years." Of course it didn't turn out that way.
The Harts had eight sons and four daughters. All eight boys became
wrestlers, all four daughters married wrestlers.
The daughters recall what it was like, growing up with a father in a
business that everyone considered "fake." The taunting they endured, the
bullying by other children. Bret himself tells a story about how one
particular bully, two years his senior and much bigger, sent one of his
sisters home in tears. Bret publicly challenged the brute and then
started wondering what he was getting himself into. The day of the fight
he recalls that he walked out of the school yard and into an alley, the
best wishes of one of his teachers ringing in his ears and proceeded to
beat the tar out of his opponent to the surprise of the onlookers.
Afterward they hoisted him onto their shoulders and paraded him around
the schoolyard - an experience he relates to the eerily similar
circumstance that occurred the night he won the WWF Title for the first
Later we get a tour of the infamous Hart Dungeon, the basement workout
room where Stu put young, aspiring wrestlers through the ringer to teach
them discipline and toughness. We hear excerpts from a tape recording,
made some years ago by one of the boys, of a particularly vocal victim
of Stu's ministrations. The recording is quiet for a few moments, as the
Hart patriarch cinches up on the youngster, and then the boy screams.
Between his hollering we hear Stu saying, "Show some discipline..." The
next scene shows a rather frail looking, 80 year old Stu Hart putting a
modified surfboard on a burly athlete who is grunting and groaning and
begging the old man to let him up. Stu calmly demonstrates that
"...moving the arm this way lets up on the pressure while moving it
back..." again he demonstrates, "...causes the eyes to pop - see the
vein right there on the temple - see that?" he says, pointing to the
bulging vein under his victim's forehead. "See? The lips are turning
blue..." The rather large youngster says, "Please let me up, sir..."
Bret Hart reveals that he never intended to make a career as a
pro-wrestler. He wanted to be an artist, to make films, and toward that
end he entered college to pursue studies in that area. Then, low on
funds, he decided to take a semester off to earn some money as a referee
in his father's promotion. Before he knew it he was in training under
his father's tutelage. He debuted as a pro-wrestler in 1979 and spent
the next four years wrestling for Stampede until Stu sold the business
to Vince McMahon, Jr. in 1984, and Bret moved to the new organization.
For several years after that he languished at the bottom of the card,
but he eventually convinced McMahon to let him team with his
brother-in-law Jim Neidhart and the Hart Foundation was born.
Skip forward to October of 1996. Bret is at the center of a bidding war
between McMahon and his arch rival, Ted Turner, who owns the WCW
promotion. McMahon offers the famous 20
year contract, paying Hart $1.5 million per year for three years as an
active wrestler at which point he would retire to the front office for a
substantially lower, but still healthy figure for the remaining 17 years
of the contract. Turner was offering him more then twice as much money,
but out of loyalty, he was ready to re-sign with McMahon. His chief
concern was for the legacy and future of the Hitman character, and Vince
assured him that that the Hitman would be a WWF hero (babyface) for
years to come. Bret accepted the WWF offer.
By March of 1997, Vince was still losing the ratings war and was
changing his tune. He wanted Bret to turn heel. At first Bret was
against the idea and it took three days for McMahon to convince him that
the fans were getting tired of his "white hat" image and that it would
be more fun to be a heel anyway. He and Bret came up with the idea of
the Anti-American angle, where he would remain a babyface in Canada and
Europe and be a heel in the States.
As the film progresses, we see Bret becoming more and more uneasy with
his America-hating persona. He is being urged to say things that he
doesn't want to say, throwing out insults that he would never consider
uttering in real life. Bret talks to the camera as he drives his car
down a street in Pittsburgh, "Every once in a while I meet a little kid
whose really down about it, who wishes I would change back. They try to
understand it and I don't really have a great answer for them either.
Hopefully, when this is all over, I won't find that I've damaged that
relationship. If I did, I will feel like I kind of, in some ways, made a
About an hour into the movie we watch the end of Bret's controversial
match with the
Undertaker during which he won the WWF Title for the fifth and final
time, aided by Special Referee Shawn Michaels' "accidental" chair shot
on the forehead of Mark Calloway. Shown with his son Blade in the
dressing room after the match, Bret looks dejected. He poses for photos
with the Title belt but we can see that his heart isn't in it.
Later, during a workout, his training partner quips that Bret probably
has "10 years of wrestling" left in him. Hart looks aghast and says,
"Ten years of wrestling? I feel like the guy wandering around the prison
yard whose a lifer - you know - I've got the nicest cell in the whole
prison, I've got the run of the place, kind of got the warden in my
pocket...but I cant wait to get out. Once I'm out, that will be the real
test...whether I can get on the outside and stay out. Whether I can lead
a normal life..."
The moment after he speaks to Vince McMahon on the phone, and has been
told that the WWF
can't afford to honor his 20 year contract, is caught on film. He asks
them to cut off the camera as he sinks into a dining room chair opposite
his wife to talk about his options. McMahon suggested that Bret go back
and talk to the Turner promotion. Hart later renewed his contacts with
Turner Vice-President Eric Bischoff and eventually, after some
vacillations on McMahon's part, accepted Turners offer but agreed to
keep it secret for the balance of his time at Titan.
Meanwhile, Bret is getting more and more disgusted with the direction of
the WWF storylines. "I can't imagine what their thinking is. I can't
imagine Vince McMahon sitting around a table going, 'Well, why don't we
try this tonight...Shawn will pull his pants down, show the crack of his
ass to everybody, jumping around...' I wish I could be in the room and
go, 'Are you guys nuts?' It's become Smut TV." In the weeks before the
Toronto match that ended his WWF career, Bret rebelled and started to
complain publicly about the creative direction of the WWF. McMahon's
response was to leak news of Hart's pending departure, telling the fans
that Bret had "sold out" to WCW.
By now Bret is beginning to suspect that McMahon is trying to destroy
his career before he leaves. During a limo ride following Hart's final
Stateside appearance for the WWF in Detroit, he complains to his
companions (including his brothers-in-law and Wayne "Honky Tonk Man"
Ferris) about the lines he was given to say in his rant against Shawn
Michaels that night. He says, "...Vince says to me, 'I want you to
really shoot with him on this interview.' We sat, Vince, Shawn and me,
sat there. We went over all these things that they wanted me to say.
Tapping into him sorta being gay, get into this and hit him with that. I
ask Shawn, 'You really want me to say these things?' and he says, 'Yeah!
Hit me with this, hit me with that.' and I say afterwards, 'I feel
really uncomfortable - I'm doing the same thing to you that I'm asking
you not to do to me...'"
Via a "wire" that Hart wore into the meeting, we are privy to the
discussions between Hart and McMahon on the afternoon of that final
Bret: "I never wanted to leave here with any kind of bad feelings, but
this week has been a bad one for me - I'm feeling kind of betrayed...
Vince: "Well, I do to , a little. But, and again all we're talking
about, really, is Ted Turner. That's what's coming between you and me,
that's all. I can't tell you how appreciative I will always be for
everything you've done.
Bret: "I didn't want to leave here with any problems, actually I didn't
want to leave at all, and now it's got to the point where there is
really no choice but to go. The way this whole thing has been depicted,
its really hard for me as a hero here to come up short this weekend...
Vince: "Um...so, what would you want to do today then..?
Bret: "What I'd like to do is just get through today - I think I should
just go in tomorrow and do my speech and forfeit the Title - I think it
gives me a chance to leave with my head up, leave in a nice way, I mean
I don't have to beat Shawn, we can have a shomoze (DQ) or whatever you
Vince: "I would think it'd be a run-in...but I'm open to anything...
Bret: "No, I think that would be fine..."
McMahon agreed, saying it was the right thing to do, and the two shook
hands on it. Outside the meeting moments later, Hart tells his wife,
Julie, "It will be alright. He says it will be a screw-job."
"I don't believe it," is her reply.
Later, in the ring, we see the referee is knocked down and Michaels is
applying Hart's own Sharpshooter finishing move on the Hitman but is
"feeding" his left leg back to Bret so that he can execute a reversal.
The scenario was to be that a second referee would run in followed by
Owen and Neidhart who would interfere and cause the disqualification.
Instead, as Michaels falls forward to the mat, the original referee
(Earl Hebner, a supposed close friend of Bret) is on his feet and
calling for the bell. Declaring Michaels as the winner! McMahon is at
ringside and yelling at Michaels to take the belt and leave. Michaels
looks as upset as Hart and gets almost to the top of the ramp before
having the presence to turn back toward the crowd and display the Title.
Back in the ring, Bret is spitting right in McMahon's face.
Moments later, in the dressing room, Shawn is frantically assuring Bret
that he had nothing to with the outcome. Julie confronts Michaels and
Paul Levesque (Hunter Hearst Helmsley) in the hallway - again they deny
complicity, but she doesn't believe it and tells them so.
The very next night we see Hart watching RAW on TV with a bitter smirk
on his face as Shawn Michaels brings out a midget in a Hitman outfit,
seemingly destroying the Hitman character, but we know that it was only
the beginning of the WWF's propaganda blitz. The "Why, Bret Why..?"
series of character assassination pieces.
And that's why this film is so important, and a "must see" for every
true wrestling fan in my opinion. Before now we have had only Bret's
word about what really happened. Vince
McMahon's version of events and his explanation of the motives of the
players has largely been accepted, especially by the younger, pro-WWF
fans. This movie, if watched with an open mind, shows us what happened
and allows us to make our own judgement about who were the good
guys...and the bad...
At least that's the way I see it...
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