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12/12/1998 11:28:22 AM

Scoops Review
brutally honest view of what goes on behind the
scenes,

HITMAN HART: Wrestling With Shadows ... by Freakboy

I have always been a big Bret Hart fan. He
started wrestling for the WWF around the
same time that I started watching, so I got to
follow his career from the formation of the
Hart Foundation to last Monday when he
beat DDP for the U.S. Title. However,
around the time of WrestleMania 12, my
interest in Bret started to fade. It seemed every time I turned around, he
was complaining about something, and I just didn't see him the same
way I did as I was cheering him on to the plethora of titles he won. Even
though I wasn't that big of a fan anymore, and he had since left for
WCW, I decided to get a copy of "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with
Shadows." The reviews that I read were that it was a documentary of
the big Survivor Series screw job, and I was interested to see if it lent
any credence to the theory that the whole thing was a work.

What I got instead was brutally honest view of what goes on behind the
scenes, and a brutally honest view of the life of a wrestler. What I got
was a heartwrenching and emotional story of, as the cover says, "a man
who believes in heroes, in a world where the anti-hero is king." What I
got was the other side of a story I thought I knew most of the answers
to. Most importantly, I got reminded of why I was such a Bret Hart fan
to begin with. Was it a work? Did Bret screw Bret? Is wrestling fake?
Let's see if we can answer some of these questions. I should warn you
that from here on in, there are some spoilers for the movie, so if you
want to be surprised come back after you've had the opportunity to see
the movie for yourself.

I guess the best place to start would be at the very beginning, where the
Hart family first got into wrestling. You'd think that such a wrestling
legacy would have started when a young Stu first saw wrestlers like
Frank Gotch and Ed "Strangler" Lewis and said to himself, "Hey, I can
do this!" Nope, this legacy started in jail. Stu's father was arrested over
a land dispute. It was in jail that he met up with a bunch of "shooters,"
which are submission style wrestlers. They would stretch you until you
screamed for mercy. Stu learned some of these holds, and started
training his sons, as well as other wrestlers, in the infamous "Dungeon."
Why is it called "The Dungeon?" Because he'd stretch you until you
were crying for your mother. There was even a part in the movie where
they played a tape Owen recorded of some guy that his father was
training. The guy was whimpering, and every so often a few seconds of
silence would segue into blood curdling screams. Even today, eighty
something year old Stu had some young punk stretched out all over his
basement. This is where Bret's career began, and these submission
techniques are where Bret & his father came up with the
"Sharpshooter."

Here's a good point to throw out the age old question "Is wrestling
fake?" The movie answered this question about as clear cut as any other
wrestling documentary you've seen, in that it didn't really answer it at all.
Bret had his philosophy about wrestling where he said "the real art is to
do it full contact and never get hurt." They showed clips from his
matches, and you could see that every one of his punches and kicks
were fully connecting. He wasn't "pulling his punch" or stopping it right
before it hit the guy. However unlike most documentaries, it showed
how the matches were plotted out. They used the main event at
"Calgary Stampede" as an example. All of the outcomes are decided by
Vince, then the wrestlers work out how they get to that outcome. Once
they have an idea how they want it to look, they go to Pat Patterson and
he figures out how it will go. They showed clips of the big ten-man
match, with Bret and Pat choreographing how it would go being voiced
over. Bret made it a point to mention that though things are worked, the
wrestlers can really hurt themselves. This was accented by Steve Austin
being helped to the dressing room with what appeared to be an ice pack
on the back of his neck.

Okay. By now you're all saying "Enough already Freakboy, get to the
good stuff. Did Bret screw Bret? Was it a work?" Hang on, because
this is where things start to really get good.

The story starts back in 1997 when Bret was first courted by WCW.
They had offered him a nine million-dollar deal over the span of three
years. Vince McMahon couldn't match the money, but he offered Bret a
twenty-year deal. This is where Bret had to make an important decision,
how much is his loyalty to the WWF worth? Nine million dollars is a lot
of money, but at the same time, he owes his career to Vince McMahon.
He said he viewed Vince as a father figure, and leaving him when the
chips are down would be like leaving his dad. In the end, he decided
that loyalty won out and was planning on spending the rest of his career
with the WWF.

The main reason he stayed was that he liked the Hitman character. The
Hitman was a character that never backed down from a fight, and
always tried to do what was right. Bret was the most popular wrestler,
and this was important to him. His position as a role model was
something he took very seriously. He wanted to be a hero that the fans
could look up to, and he wasn't sure what WCW would do to that
character. Now here's where things started to get strange for him,
because the fans were starting to cheer the people they were supposed
to hate. They were starting to rally behind wrestlers like Mankind and
Steve Austin, who were created to be monster heels. Little by little,
more people were cheering Stone Cold then they were booing him.
Conversely, more people were booing Bret then they were cheering
him. Vince McMahon eventually heard this as well.

As Bret says, "The fans dictate what happens." If the fans embrace
Stone Cold as a good guy, then he gets pushed as a good guy.
Unfortunately for Bret, that means him getting pushed as a bad guy. It
took some convincing on Vince McMahon's part, because Bret had
taken so much pride in being the hero, but eventually he agreed to make
the turn. "I guess there are only so many times you can rescue the girl on
the railroad without people getting bored with it." So at Wrestlemania
13, at the end of the Bret Hart/Steve Austin match, they were going to
make the switch. Now, this surprised the hell out of me, because I
always thought that the fans "just happened" to start rooting for Stone
Cold after this match, but it was all set up. Steve Austin, the heel going
into the match, was going to not give up like a classic good guy. Bret
Hart, the face going into the match, was going to kick Austin when he
was down, like a classic bad guy. In one match, the top face and the top
heel of the WWF just switched alignments.

So Bret was now a heel, but he thought that was okay as long as he
stayed true to the Hitman character. In his eyes, he was still the good
guy. It was the American wrestling fans that turned into the villains. This
led to the six months of the "America bashing" Bret was urged to do. He
didn't want to, and he was never told to, but he was heavily urged to
anyway. Remember this later on, it plays into his decision to sign with
WCW. Anyway, Bret just went from being the top face of the WWF to
the top heel. Actually, he did something that no one tried before. He
was a heel in America, but he was still a face everywhere else around
the world. Anyone that watched wrestling during the summer of 97
heard that, as loud as the boos were for him in the States, the cheers
were twice as loud in Canada and other parts of the world. Things were
going all right, until that years SummerSlam. Enter Shawn Michaels.

The Undertaker was defending the world title against Bret Hart that
night, and Shawn Michaels was the special referee. Now, for reasons
they didn't get into in the movie, Shawn was turning heel that night. Bret
Hart expressed his concern to Pat Patterson that Shawn was going to
scoop some of his heat. Still, the angle went off anyway, and a chairshot
later, Shawn Michaels was a heel and Bret Hart was the new world
champion.

This is where the movie gets hard to watch. Even if you're not a Bret
Hart fan going into it, the documentary is done so well that you feel like
you've been a fan all your life. You really get into the "hero's journey"
that the Hitman character was taking, and this was the point where it all
started to fall apart for him. I had watched the movie a couple of times
before writing this, and by third time I watched it, this next scene had me
in tears. You saw Bret Hart's reaction in the lockeroom after he just
won the world title. You saw the look in a man's face that is holding the
top title in his organization, but yet is the number three guy behind Stone
Cold and HBK. The editing of this scene was so powerful, I can't even
begin to do it justice with words, but Bret Hart did not look like
someone that just won a world championship. However, as despondent
as Bret looked, he couldn't have been prepared for the bombshell Vince
McMahon was about do drop that September. That's when Vince told
Bret he wanted out of their twenty-year contract.

You're probably just as confused as I am. Why would Vince want Bret
to leave after signing him to a twenty-year contract? Vince had told Bret
that he was in "financial peril" and that he'd be doing Vince and himself a
favor by seeing if WCW's offer is still available. I think it had more to do
with the direction Vince wanted to take the WWF in. Bret Hart was
publicly speaking out against where the WWF is heading, and said that
it wasn't suitable for families to watch. By Bret leaving, Vince wouldn't
have anyone speaking up against the new adult direction that he wanted
to take his company. To Bret's credit, even though WCW asked him
what it would take to get him to sign, he still gave Vince a chance to
convince him to stay. When Vince asked Bret "What does he want?
Where does he want to go with the Hitman character?" he realized what
a horrible predicament he was in. He was the top good guy, but gave
that up to be the top bad guy. Now he can't even do that since Shawn
Michaels was now the top heel. He, at Vince McMahon's urging, had
alienated his American fans so much that he'd never be able to turn face
again anyway. His decision was clear and, after a twenty second fax, he
ended his fourteen-year relationship with the WWF. They had agreed to
keep his leaving a secret, but when Bret kept on speaking out against
the WWF, Vince leaked it out that he was leaving for the money. His
last match would be Survivor Series against Shawn Michaels.

That leads us to the biggest question surrounding this movie, "Was it all
a work?" Like Bret says, "People talk about wrestling not being real, it's
far more real then people think." Vince told Bret he had to drop the title
to Shawn in Canada. He couldn't have Bret showing up on Nitro with
the title. Bret said he would never do that, it would be like murdering the
character. He refused to lose to Shawn, and rightfully so, because he
had reasonable creative control over his character in his final thirty days.
He was willing to drop the belt the next night on live television or
anything else, he just wouldn't lose in Canada. Vince then asked him
what he wanted to do, and Bret just asked to let him get through that
weekend and he'd drop the belt the next night. They finally agreed on a
disqualification ending. So, they showed clips of the match and like the
ten-man from Calgary, the choreographing was voiced over. Only as we
all know by now, the ending didn't happen as it was supposed to. Vince
told the ref to ring the bell, and Bret realized that he was screwed. Was
it a work? Not from what I could tell. After the match, the camera
pretty much stayed on Bret. They were asked to leave when he had his
meeting with Vince, and then we found out that Vince "walked into" his
fist. The entire segment only lasted a few minutes, and there was nothing
shown to lend any credibility to the belief that it was all a work. The film
crew was just lucky.

The movie ended with Bret and his family watching the RAW when
HBK brought out a midget dressed like Bret. This reminded me of a
scene in the movie "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" Gilbert's mom was
obese, but she had to leave the house to get his brother out of jail. They
showed them driving to the jail, and when you saw the car draggng on
the ground where she was sitting, everybody in the theater thought it
was hysterical. At the jail, you saw everybody laughing and pointing at
her, to the point where the car still dragged on the way back, but the
audience didn't find it funny anymore. When we all saw the midget thing
on RAW, it was funny. But after going through this ninety-minute look
into Bret Hart's life, and seeing his family watching, it just wasn't funny
anymore.

In closing, "Did Bret screw Bret?" I still believe Vince made the right
decision that he had to make for his company. Bret wouldn't have
shown up on Nitro with the title, but Eric Bischoff was still going to be
on TV the next night waiving the Canadian flags. Bischoff saying that the
WWF champ was leaving to join WCW would have been detrimental
to Vince and his organization. So Vince made the decision he had to
make, and judging by the success of the WWF spawning off of that
decision, it's hard to argue with him. But Bret DID NOT screw Bret.
Bret Hart prided himself on being a character with integrity that would
never sell out, and he didn't. He left the WWF with the same integrity he
had for the fourteen years he was there. Sure his current role as a heel in
WCW is somewhat hypocritical compared to what he said in the movie,
and that may lend credibility to the rumors that he's unhappy with
wrestling, but that's where the real tragedy lies. Unfortunately, in this
business that has been so much a part of Bret Hart's life, there doesn't
seem to be room for the hero that Bret wants to be.

But Bret still has his integrity, he still has his ideals, and he has at least
one more person that respects what he's done for us as fans, and what
he's always tried to do. Maybe as more and more people see this
movie, more and more people will say the same thing. Maybe then Bret
can once again play the role of the hero he wants, and the hero we
need.

Freakboy

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