We live in a country where everyone is encouraged to follow their dreams, no matter how quirky or unconventional they might be. But what if those dreams involve body-slamming your brother against a fiery wooden plank covered in barbed wire as the centerpiece to something called "The Three Stages of Hell?"
That's the timeless question posed by The Backyard, today's entry in Guilty Pleasure Monday. It'd be tempting to call backyard wrestling the mulleted, inbred hillbilly cousin of professional wrestling but since professional wrestling is itself the mulleted, inbred hillbilly of the sports world that would be redundant.
The Backyard takes a wildly entertaining if thoroughly half-assed look at the thumbtack-strewn, blood-gushing world of backyard wrestling, a grubby little milieu where testosterone-poisoned dumbasses with moniker like The Retarded Butcher and The Lizard live out their WWF fantasies for the enjoyment of literally several fans.
Contrary to popular belief, backyard wrestling isn't the exclusive domain of inbred, uneducated proletarian dumbasses. Director Paul Hough makes it clear that educated, middle-class dumbasses enjoy throwing each other through card tables as well.
Hough even encounters middle-class authority figures and teachers who justify and defend backyard wrestling on the grounds that it teaches teamwork, organization and marketing skills (hey, those promotional flyers for events like the Martin Luther King Day Massacre or Veteran's Day Violence aren't going to affix themselves to the bulletin board). I suppose similar logic could be used to defend Michael Vick's dog-fighting misadventures. After all didn't Vick show entrepreneurial zeal in organizing a whole interstate dog-fighting ring? That's gotta be worth something, right?
In his quest to explore the wacky world of backyard wrestling Hough even travels back to his native England where the adorable accents and impeccable manners of his subjects somehow manage to make backyard wrestling seem almost droll and delightful. It doesn't hurt that the limey backyard wrestling aficionados dismiss the whole silly enterprise as nothing more than "a bit of a laff" more than once, something to keep them occupied between Dr. Who marathons and tea time. The British backyard enthusiasts scoff at the shambling carny drama of barbed wire, shattered glass and thumbtacks, preferring the good old-fashioned craft of blading (cutting yourself with a small concealed razor to make a match look bloodier).
As it unwinds The Backyard uncovers the warped psycho-drama behind some of its more colorful subjects. Scar, the self-described "King Of Hurt" was a sickly child who endured surgery after surgery throughout a deeply traumatic childhood while the brothers behind "The Three Stages Of Hell" were viciously abused by their father. In both cases the backyard wrestlers work through formative traumas by managing and controlling pain rather than being destroyed by it. It's as empowering as any phenomenon that regularly features people being set on fire can be.
Alas, that makes the whole enterprise seems much classier and more psychologically astute than it really is. I could claim that The Backyard is a revealing sociological treatise on violence, entertainment and the American mania for celebrity at its lowest ebb but the truth is it's just a fun movie about dumbasses beating the living shit out of each other. In its pitch-black humor and hyper-violent slapstick it's like Jackass by way of American Movie.
It's also a poorly made, spectacularly confused film hobbled by a hilariously clueless narrator who says things like "I found it very interesting when The Retarded Butcher told me his mom was a local schoolteacher". Apparently the director imagined that the Retarded Butcher's mom would be some sort of blood-crazed Retarded Butcheress. Instead The Retarded Butcher's mom shows up at her son's match with Scar in a nearby park and yells out things like "Check and see if he's O.K, honey!" when The Butcher appears to have seriously injured his opponent (needless to say it's all Acting!) To his credit The Retarded Butcher more or less stays in character and resists the urge to whine "Mommmmmm! You're totally embarrassing me!"
To say that Hough lacks a coherent take on his subject would be a colossal understatement. He ends the film by worrying aloud about the injuries and pain caused by backyard wrestling, then follows up with a kick-ass montage of sweet-ass backyard wrestling moves (shown backwards for extra classiness) set to an obnoxious pro-Backyard Wrestling song. So apparently backyard wrestling is a deplorable practice that results in lots of injuries and destruction but also kicks major ass and totally rules. Got it.
It's possible Hough was so intoxicated by all the kick-ass footage he was shooting that he neglected to give his material a satisfying shape or form. Or it is possible that he immersed himself far too deeply in the sadomasochistic world of backyard wrestling and has been whacked upside the head a few too many times with a barbed wire bat. The Backyard is a sweet little midnight movie in the making. Just don't expect to respect yourself in the morning.
So here's my question for you, dear reader: what do you think of organized religion? Is it the opiate of the masses or the path to eternal salvation? I would like the comments on this blog post to definitively decide the age-old question of whether or not a deity of some sort watches over mankind. I don't think that's asking too much.