September 16th, 2003
I had certain perceptions about backyard wrestling that I was hoping would be shattered while watching Paul Hough's “The Backyard.” I thought backyard wrestling was only done by poor white trash. I thought the wrestlers were dumb idiots who listen to Insane Clown Posse.
I assumed the wrestlers would have limited vocabularies that include such words and phrases as “faggot, “mother f**ker,” and “I like Insane Clown Posse and I'm white trash.” Well, you know something? I was completely right.
As the film opens, we meet two wrestling brothers who, with help from mom, are staging a “Three Stages of Hell” match in the Arizona desert which ends when one wrestler slams another into a hole that is covered with a board of barbwire that just so happens to be set on fire. We also meet “The Lizard”- a wrestler who actually believes he will make it big in the WWE and that backyard wrestling is his ticket in. He drives all day to Las Vegas for a try out and, predictably by all but himself, doesn't make the cut. The director not once asks if “The Lizard” actually thinks he will make it. It's clear from the film that he isn't big enough, smart enough, and isn't good-looking enough to fit in with the WWE. Although by the end of the film, and much to my surprise, he's on his way. The film also travels to England to meet some teenagers who also take part in this barbaric sport. What's funny is that when white trash kids talk with English accents and drink tea, they don't appear so white trash.
The strangest and most appalling portion of the film is when we learn that some parents, teachers, and school principles actually approve of and help promote backyard wrestling events! During a match two teens stage in a nearby park, a mother looks on in horror as the wrestlers smash light-tubes over their heads and put each other through tables. She has no control over the situation. She screams and cries, but her son keeps right on going. When she finally tries to stop the match the kids ignore her and keep on going. The match finally ends with a kid being thrown off some bleachers onto a table. This film could easily have been called “The Decline of Western Parenting.”
Unfortunately, the film asks no real questions and seeks no answers. Instead, all the director wants us to do is meet backyard wrestlers (including my personal favorite “The Retarded Butcher”) from across the United States and England and watch them beat each other up. Sure, he asks the obvious question of why they are taking part in this brutal pastime, but he gets boring responses like, “I wanna be a pro wrestler” or “I like putting on a show.” A better and more intelligent film would have not accepted those answers. Does “I wanna be a professional wrestler?” really explain why someone would allow a friend to clock them with a fluorescent light-tube then throw them off a ladder onto a table that was set on fire? I want to know what is going on in these guys' brains when they take razor blades and slice their heads open to “juice” blood in an attempt to make the crowd go “ahhhhh!” Hough takes a hands-off approach simply letting these kids do what they do. Not once does he criticize the kids, or more importantly, the parents. I would love to see a documentary on the parents of backyard wrestlers.
The only way to watch “The Backyard” is to do it “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style and goof on it the whole time. Its aim was to do for backyard wrestling what “Beyond the Mat” did for pro wrestling - put a human face on the “sport” and introduce you to the wrestlers themselves who aren't the people they appear to be. “The Backyard” does neither. In confirms what we already suspected - backyard wrestling is bad and the people that take part in it are nuts. None of the people in the film are good and you don't sympathize with any of them. Some of the wrestling moves are extremely brutal yet you don't cringe and feel sorry for these kids - you laugh. The film makes you feel better about yourself. If you take anything from this film, it's that you're not an idiot. You're not nuts, not even close.
“The Backyard” earns a C- for not asking tough enough questions and an A+ for reassuring the audience that they are sane. "The Backyard" is now playing in limited release. Check your local listings or the film's website for show times and information.
My rating: C-