“People say jazz is the great American art form. Jazz is dead. I think wrestling is the great American art form." - PITT
Plenty are not willing to accept the many elements that make up professional wrestling: from the fraudulent fighting to the, well, straight-up existence of storylines, the sport has become an easy target for condescension and quick dismissal.
However, a few fuddy duddies can't stop its mass legion of fans. People of all ages come together to support their favorite heroes and slander the obnoxious antagonists, setting aside reality and diving headfirst into a world full of wild personalities where soapy rivalries are a dime-a-dozen. Robert Greene’s feature-doc “Fake It So Real” turns away from the WWE’s slick stars/action-leads-in-the-making in favor of the small, independent MWF (Millenium Wrestling Federation) located in North Carolina. Using a mostly verite approach, the director follows a number of wrestlers in the lead up to a big show as they spend their time training, planning, and making ends meet at their respective jobs. Wrestling isn’t just a hobby for them, it’s an important creative outlet, a unique art that offers them a way to express themselves. Unfortunately it also happens to be extremely costly not only in monetary terms, but also in time and (who knew it) health. Of course, there’s no question of whether it’s worth it or not -- once the show is on and the men’s characters take control, it’s immediately apparent that all the admitted (and guaranteed) shoulder problems and thrown out backs are nothing compared to this high.
But let’s back up a bit, because before the local veterans center is lit up, Greene does a fantastic job at introducing the players. Tiny interviews are sprinkled throughout and the subjects open up without any sort of shame; similarly, the director treats them with respect but balances his touch well enough so that the proceedings never become overly serious. Each are fairly absorbing in their own right, but what helps build momentum are the varying odds stacked against them. Lead organizer Jeff is the backbone of the entire organization, but an illness may keep him bedridden and cause him to miss his first match in ten years. Gabriel, the rookie, is an all too ardent youngin’ (drinking game -- count how many times the kid earnestly asks another wrestler what they think he could improve on) eager to prove himself in the ring. Will the hazing every newbie goes through keep him from getting his chance? Moreover, can a smaller feller like him even compete with the much larger and much more seasoned showmen? Then there’s Zane of shaggy beard fame, thrust with more responsibility now that Jeff is out on leave. Set for a match in which a loss means the shaving of his bristles, can he run the paperwork and still put on a fine act? We won’t pretend that these stakes are terribly high or that they are life-or-death situations, but their presence is felt because the director presents people we can care for and invest in, even if only for a short time.
Director of photography Sean Price Williams delivers the clean, crisp look we’ve come to expect from contemporary digitally-shot documentaries, but he also manages to add a few unique and varying flourishes that give “Fake It So Real” a stand-apart personality. A night time gathering early in the week is shot within the advent of magic-hour and, in turn, a humorous hang out session receives a backdrop of a beautiful setting sun and scattering blue light. Working on a macro-level, Williams and Greene constantly insert pieces of suburban America, whether it be far in the background or slightly fragmented in the frame. This gives the tone the exact feeling that a small town would exert on somebody -- there’s a sense of warmth and comfort, but also of imprisonment, one that stirs frustration and rebelliousness. This complex reaction not only solidifies a link between the audience and the subjects of the film, but makes it more profound.
As the days pass, families are introduced and glimpses of “real jobs” are spoken of but the most anyone can talk about is the imminent show. Since the build-up is so successful, it’s at first a tad disappointing that the opening match is reduced to general highlights instead of being included in its entirety. Indeed, it’s preposterous to think that there would be time for every full fight to be included (subsequent bouts would go on longer, the third exhibited in its entirety), but its handling and placement as the kick-off can’t help but feel like a let-down. That said, the (relatively) intimate environment is captured remarkably. The crowd interacting with the performers is a ball, and the raw sound of the wrestlers slamming onto the mat is unnerving -- only with this do we realize how gussied up the mainstream matches really are.
Eschewing any sort of melodramatic narrative device (“They’re gonna close us down!” etc.) and instead simply following some wrestlers a few days before a tournament, “Fake It So Real” gets to the the nitty-gritty of the people involved, showing how much passion can go into a sport/art that is too easily dismissed. [B]