What Is Wrong with Pretending?. 3 February 2012

The art of wrestling and how it can teach actors a thing or two. 

Following a trip to Mexico my son has decided to learn how to wrestle, Mexican style, or Lucha Libre as it’s properly known.

You probably know but maybe don't appreciate that there is no small measure of skill, technique and dramatic ability involved in being a wrestler.

If you don’t know what you are doing you will 
a) get seriously hurt
b) fail to entertain
c) quite possibly die a death (see a and b).

It takes a combination of training and natural ability to get it right and even then it can go wrong. So, it’s just like acting really, isn’t it?

People balk at the pretence and artifice of wrestling, too much showbiz and not enough sport, but really it’s just another kind of theatre, and its popularity is staggering.

Check out the WWF phenomenon for example. OK so the people in the crowd are freaks by and large. They believe in it, they buy the merch, they know all the characters and plotlines, they autograph hunt and they are so into it, big time.

A bit like fans of musicals, no?

Anyhow, it’s all pretending at the end of the day, but where an actor’s ego may be bruised by a bad review, the wrestler takes a physical beating. You might say that a willingness to make a profession out of pain signifies lower intelligence, in actual fact a lot of these guys are far from stupid.

Their theatre (like ‘ours’) goes back to the dawn of time when bouts would be staged in the same 'area venues' as plays were acted out in. It was all entertainment at the end of the day.

It made me think about hybrids, cinematic and televisual hybrids and highlights in particular, and there are some classics.

Here’s a few to whet your appetite – feel free to add to the list:

Oliver Reed and Alan Bates share some infamous quality time in Ken Russell’s Women in Love

The climax in the Coliseum – Yes, it’s Gladiator. Are we not entertained?

The 8 Rules of Fight Club – it’s going to kick off, literally.

The Wrestler – brings new meaning to the term ‘suffering for your art’

And just because it is so damn entertaing, here's some old skool WWF soap opera action for starters – takes a while to get to the smackdown

Our main course is some vintage UK Style wrestling with Giant Haystacks and Bid Daddy – pure theatre.

And for desert, a taste of Lucha Libre, definitely the winner of best costume design.

So bascially when it comes to fighters trying to act and actors trying to fight  I think the judges have it even, but what, I wonder, would happen if Giant Haystacks was put in a ring with Oliver Reed? Or better yet if Stone Cold Steve Austin trod a different set of boards? Wait a minute, someone has crossed over! Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?

Clair Chamberlain (Mexican Wrestler name: Vaquero Grande)


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