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Sonoma Valley Film Festival: The Backyard

I used to be a backyard wrestler, only we used a common room instead of the backyard. I was Mr. Fabulous, and those were the days.

When I heard about Paul Hough's documentary The Backyard, I knew I had to see it, if only to relive the days when I got cheap pops. The Backyard portrays modern backyard wrestlers not as blood and brawls obsessed madmen, but dreamers looking to touch that stage they love so much.

The opening is a pair of brothers wrestling a 3 Stages of Hell match. The first stage was simple submission, the second, burying your opponent alive, the third, throwing your opponent into a pit covered with a barbed wire wrapped board.

Yes, all of those in one match.

The brothers, huge fans, are in their early 20s, and the match they have is brutal, not so much for the barbed wire baseball bats and falling on light bulbs, but for the fact that they take bumps that are incredibly close to paralysis drops.

I saw more than one moment where I found myself saying "That's not how you take that bump." The segment is a nice introduction to the rest of the film, as it gives tastes of the violence, and quickly introduces the type of characters, as well as the style of cinematography. The opening segment is left without closure, a choice that makes sense as the film progresses.

We then visit various other feds around the US and even England. Meet The Lizard, a 26 year old Pizza Shift manager who dreams of making it big. He is given the most screen time, and he becomes the emotional heart of the film. He has a ton of charisma, and a fun gimmick, so the audience takes to him fast.

When they are going over the backyard wrestlers who applied to Tough Enough, and the first three are rejected, there are big laughs. When we see that The Lizard is selected as one of the 250, the audience popped. Not a film audience "Hey, the good guy gets a shot" pop, but a wrestling fan, HELL YEAH!!! pop. To me, if you can get that reaction out of Sonomans, you are doing it exactly right.

The cinematography is good. Far from the level of some of the wrestling documentaries I've seen, but it is edited in such a way that you don't notice. The action moves perfectly and very wisely.

When you think the doc is going to turn into a diatribe about the evils of backyard wrestling, it comes up with some great comedy. When it seems like it's about to turn into a highlight reel for the boys, it comes back with some very important commentary. Hough works the film beautifully. The title track, done by rapper SJ and not the type of hip-hops that I swear my allegiance to, was visceral, angry, and very catchy.

It's obvious that everyone involved in the project had a love of wrestling that came through in the doc, adding a quality of understanding for those of us already in the know and folding in the nonbelievers as well. I've always maintained that the love of wrestling is contagious, and I doubt very much that the guys who cheered The Lizard are in the Nielsens for SmackDown!.

RVD makes an appearance, giving his support and warnings. He seems to understand why they do it, but I would have liked to have seen him reacting to some of the specific moments from the rest of the film. The one time the film does have an outsider watching the type of matches these kids do is when the mother of The Retarded Butcher (My second favorite gimmick shown in the film, right after Big Mac with a Spork) watches as The Scar puts him through tables, hits him with flourescent bulbs, and just plain mangles him. It's interesting watching her reaction, very similar to Collette Foley's from Beyond the Mat, and at the same time it's depressing, as it's obvious that The Retarded Butcher is living a part of his dream and she is squashing it.

There are some truly sick moments, like the preteen British kid who won't stop bleeding after his bladejob, or the guy who had a note stapled to his forehead. The worst, to the eyes of a guy who knows how these bumps are supposed to be taken, had to be a young lady being powerbombed through a piece of plywood on top of some milk crates. She was literally 5 degrees or so off from landing directly on top of her head.

Forget the barbed wire, the thumbtacks, cactus and chair shots, the impact from taking simple moves were a hundred times more dangerous. But just when it seems like it's about to turn into one of those Best of Backyard Wrestling orgies of violence, we swing back to a more real world.

The Lizard is the star, as we root for him the whole way, but the moment that spoke to me most is the return to the brothers and the explanation of the symbolism of the 3 Stages of Hell. The entire match dealt with the abuse the brothers were subjected to as kids, and the stages each represented specific moments and incidents.

Anyone who says that wrestling is meaningless should be forced to sit down and watch the explanation of the match. As big as the moves are, and as violent as the match is, it's obvious that it is their way of working out those demons.

All in all, The Backyard did what it had to do: present the world of backyard wrestling as a tribe of people, not as a stage for violence to play itself out on. Yes, there are all the big moments that the vampires in the audience will want to see, but there is even more for the person who wants to understand the hows and whys of these brawls and brawlers.

See it at least once, as it will give you a whole new perspective on why they fight out back, and the effect of wrestling on the lives of fans, both positive and negative.

Chris Garcia

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