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11/19/1998 4:04:31 PM

Toronto Star review
Had me surprisingly pinned to the sofa for 90 minutes. Not only is this a finely crafted, feature-quality entertainment, at once character study, action movie, sports thriller and romance. Great entertainment . . it's a knock out"

Wrestling documentary a knockout

Antonia Zerbisias,
Toronto Star

The fake fighting, the beefy bodies, the cheesy costumes, the bellowing and breast-beating, the really bad hair, not to mention the Springer quality fans . . . I don't get any of it.
But millions do, making Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and Ted Turner's rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) consistently the top-rated cable programming in the U.S. and, indeed, the world.
Then again, every TV executive knows that networks will never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the audience.
Which is why I was so suprised that Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows, on TVO's The View From Here tonight at 10, had me surprisingly pinned to the sofa for 90 minutes.
Not only is this a finely crafted, feature-quality documentary, it's also compelling entertainment, at once character study, action movie, sports thriller and romance.
Bret (The Hitman) Hart, for those who are as ignorant as I, is a Calgary-born superstar, a hero at home but reviled south of the border where, when it was obvious that good guy-types were no longer big wrestling box office, he revamped his image to become the ugly anti-American in order to draw more hoots and hollers from fans who love to hate the villains who strut and slime about the ring.
``It's become smut TV,'' complains Hart, regretful that wrestling has become too sleazy and sexual a game for kids to watch.
A great big hunka-hunka, even at 41, Hart thinks of himself as a hero, the kind of guy who champions family values and stands up for what's right.
At least that's what comes across in this documentary.
But, as Hart himself admits, wrestling is as much about theatre as it is about sport.
So who knows what's real here?
One thing's sure: Producer/director Paul Jay was indeed touched by the documentary angels when he set out to make this film. That's because what apparently began as just another Biography/Life & Times-type profile turned into an exposé of what goes on behind the scenes in this obviously rigged ``sports entertainment'' arena.
The film starts a year ago, as Hart makes his way to his hotel room in Montreal where he'll play out his last bout for the WWF.
As his fans know, that match would mark ``the biggest double cross in wrestling history,'' when McMahon ``screwed'' the Hitman out of the WWF retirement he expected - and deserved.
But Jay immediately backs off and rewinds to a happier time in Hart's life, when he's at the top of his game and deciding between offers from the WWF and WCW.
As the film progresses, however, it's obvious that Hart, whose dad was a wrestler, whose eight brothers are wrestlers and whose four sisters all married wrestlers, is becoming mightily disenchanted with his world.
Jay, along with sensitive camera work from award-winning shooter Joan Hutton and seamless editing by Manfred Becker, tracks this progression all the way to its bitter, bitter end.
One sour spot in Hart's carefully crafted image is his relationship with his long-suffering wife, Julie, whose personality he compares to a rattlesnake's.
Who knows what goes on in a marriage? The film suggests something's awry. What that is, is never revealed but the marriage has since ended, although the documentary never reports that.
It doesn't matter. Watching Wrestling With Shadows is still great entertainment. In fact, it's a knock out.

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