The Big Stanislavski
Originally Posted: 9-13-03

Hello, my intended...

As you've been able to tell, it's been pretty slow in the ol' wrestling world. Not that anyone's surprised. After all, wrestling's been sucking worse than an Oreck Vacuum thrown into a black hole. No, I don't get anything for the link, but I figured the darn thing sounds made-up so I decided to cover my bases for all those skeptics in the audience. Besides, Hoover's overused. Right, then. Moving along...

I've been avoiding the wrestling lately... I know. Me and everyone. I had a decent excuse, though. The home-team's debut game was Monday Night in their brand new stadium built with help from my tax money, so I decided to see what the hubbub was about. The home-team was devastated by the defending Superbowl Champs - as well as a crippling series of blunders that pretty much gave me the usual taste of rising bile I've grown accustomed to on my Mondays. Nice arena, though... (Sigh)

Sure, it's just the first game... But if that's the team we're putting against the rest of the nation, I don't like our chances of making it to the big game this year. Oh, well, at least we'll beat the Cowboys - they're even MORE pitiful with added Parcells Power. This pleases me. Doesn't anyone in Texas think it's a bit ODD to hire a guy that made a career of hating the shit out of Dallas to coach Dallas' team? That's like hiring Muammar Khaddafi to co-chair the Homeland Security Department. It's going to go badly, and how can you POSSIBLY be surprised? Oh, right. Texans...

I withdraw the question.

Now that I've done my standard 'piss on the rednecks' bit, I should be off the hook for another few months. Yee-hah. Let's examine the old saw about barriers in wrestling, shall we? No, I don't mean the 'You don't fuck the boss's daughter' barrier, folks. That's wearing pretty thin. No, I mean...

The Language Barrier

Now, we all know that today's wrestling is more 'character-driven' than it's been in the past (you know, when you could see people actually WRESTLE at least half the show) but some people just can't seem to work the stick. Sure, with people like Tajiri (who's not exactly known for his thespian-level diction) or Ultimo (who doesn't really USE English) it's pretty obvious as to why they don't get much face-time. But this is also accepted to be why Benoit will be an important stepping stone for the more 'stick-capable' to get a bit of rub-off (to make us think they can actually wrestle, since - y'know - they beat a good wrestler) on their way to the brass ring he'll never have in the ol' Crossface. Why is this so? We all know why, don't we?

Because of the Silent But Violent.

Cutting promos, Benoit is as good as A-Train is at wrestling... This prevents him from 'connecting' with the fans in the new WWe style, which is - you guessed it - much less wrestling-based than in times before. Historically, when a guy was crappy on the stick they'd give him a mouthpiece/manager to do the talking, but again that's paying two people to try to get one guy over - and when that one guy doesn't win the 'big matches', it's pretty much pointless. This makes them either add another mook to have the mouthpiece talk for, as with the Dungeon of Doom - or more recently the Playas Club of Teddy Long, or just move the poor mumblefish to the support area (aka: back burner) to languish until the standard suicide or 'accidental overdose' in the accepted vernacular. Starting Deathwatch... Now. Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock... Not that A-Train is worth a pound of back-hair on the stick, either, mind you, but the guy is big - and Big=Push in Vince's Circus no matter how much of a useless clod the guy clearly is to anyone with two brain cells to rub together. But I digress...

In a nutshell, a performer pretending to be a wrestler (such as Hogan) always does better than a wrestler trying to be a performer (exception: Kurt Angle). In the world of 'sports-entertainment' a person's skill as a wrestler is, was, and always shall be second to his skill CONVINCING us in the seats how 'good' or how 'dangerous' they are. This brings us to a fact that Hollywood learned a long time ago...

It's easier to teach an actor martial arts than it is to teach a martial artist how to act. Look at all the 'action stars' that were 'big' because they were capable martial artists - and look at them NOW. For fun, I'll compare them to their nearest 'match' in WWe, so it's still a wrestling article, okay? Spiffy.

Jean-Claude Van Damme - There would be no RVD if this savate practitioner didn't make a bunch of really stupid movies... Then he got punched out by Chuck Zito because he supposedly talked some shit in a bar, and last I'd heard he was doing a reality-show airing in Europe, called Dans la Peau Jean-Claude Van Damme. Basically, it's the Anna Nicole Smith deal, only with frogs. The guy could do nice moves, no question. Savate is a flashy style - sort of the European Tae Kwon Do - and he had a rugged (if bug-eyed) look and a pretty good physique. Then he tried to do some 'less-kicky' role in 'Sudden Death', and was exposed as a pisspoor actor. Well, that's not entirely accurate. It was believed that after 'Die Hard at the Hockey Game' as Sudden Death was nicknamed, Van-Damme would need years of training to BECOME a pisspoor actor. Then he got knocked out in one punch (according to the stories I'd double-checked at the Associated Press) and that shot his tough-guy image in the ass pretty much forever.

Comparable to: Shawn Michaels. Why? One word: Sailors. Okay, that's a bit harsh - even for me. Michaels is a capable worker who has enough of 'the right moves' to be considered good at his craft, and for reasons totally unknown to me, people like him and enjoy his efforts - though they're usually trite, formulaic and insubstantive at best.

Don 'the Dragon' Wilson - I never liked this guy, or any of his movies... However, he was a very accomplished kickboxer and held the light-heavyweight strap for twelve years among other accomplishments, such as ten-time champion in three different weight classes. He was pretty famous in the martial arts circles, even being named the greatest kickboxer of all time and three-time Fighter of the Year for Blackbelt magazine... Problem? He couldn't talk worth a damn. His first role was as a sparring partner in a romantic comedy called 'Say Anything', and later began the lengthy series of crap that was Bloodfist, which lasted EIGHT parts. He took the name 'Dragon' because when he got started people compared him to Bruce Lee due to a VERY slight (in my opinion) resemblance and that nobody else was really using the name at the time except Ricky Steamboat. Wilson wasn't a very BAD actor, but you just didn't really 'connect' with the guy in any of his roles as he was not very charismatic, and his voice was much too 'sissy' to properly convey his badass credentials.

Comparable to: Brock Lesnar. A legitimate toughguy and a hell of an athlete, Brock Lesnar is a psychotic beast monster that could scare the hell out of most folks - and it all goes in the crapper the second he starts talking.

Mark Dacascos - This winner of the Italian Kung Fu and Karate Championship (1982) possesses an INCREDIBLE amount of skill at the arts, has a very marketable 'look', and is probably one of the best 'actors' amongst his colleagues - though that's comparable to being the smartest kid in the Special Ed Class, we'll ignore it for now. The problem here is that he's never picked a very good vehicle to properly showcase his skills. In fact, most of them were embarrassing wastes of his potential. Honestly, when your best movie is 'Only the Strong', and you're best known for being the guy that played Eric Draven in the 'Crow' TV Series you get the idea that the guy is never gonna make it 'to the next level' - ever. And that is truly a shame.

Comparable to: Chris Jericho. I think the similes are obvious, as Jericho has been involved in stinker after stinker that have served to completely bury him. A top shelf performer that's doomed to the undercard because he's never allowed to live up to his potential, mostly because when he finally DID (as the first Undisputed Champion) it was after he'd been devalued to the point nobody took him seriously. No doubt assisted by the fact that his biggest 'feud' was with Stephanie McMahon, since everyone else was out on injury. But of course that's all HIS fault...

Dolph Lundgren - This guy has it all: brains (Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Sydney, and awarded a Fullbright scholarship at MIT), brawn (6'6", former bodyguard to the likes of Grace Jones, and noted Karate Champion - 2x European, once in Australia), and looks (not terribly ugly). But for some reason, nobody likes him. Maybe because he got his start by being 'involved' with Grace Jones - who got him a part in the James Bond movie 'A View to a Kill' as his debut role while they were in a less than professional body/guard deal? Maybe because he's usually best known as the badguy (monster Russian in Rocky IV)? Maybe because he's the star in movies that clearly shouldn't have been made to start with - such as Masters of the Universe (as He-Man) and The Punisher (as Frank Castle)? Whatever the reason nobody likes him, he keeps going despite them because it's what he wants to do - and he doesn't give a shit what the critics say about it. To his credit, some of his films are actually watchable, though it's mostly due to his supporting cast (Matthias Hues in 'I Come in Peace', or Lou Gosset Jr. in 'Punisher', or even Frank Langela as 'Skeletor') - and even stranger, the one film most people actually LIKE him in; he's in a minor supporting role (Johnny Mnemonic). Though sadly, even his 'best performance' is directly attributable to his co-workers - and the fact that everyone else sucked HORRIBLY in that merciless raping of the Dark Future/Cyberpunk genre. He retired in April, 2002, but has begun to work his way back into the business - hoping that he'll be able to do as Connery did and set aside the 'beefcake actor' mantle and just be 'an actor'. I wish him luck, too. Honest.

Comparable to: Triple H. Levesque is a medium-level talent who 'uses what he has' as intelligently as anyone could to put himself at the top. His best efforts are when he's with someone that's a much better wrestler (who can help him look good) or when he's with a much worse wrestler (so he can look good by comparison).

Chuck Norris - He's played the badguy and the hero - though he's usually the hero. Not exactly the cat's pajamas as a martial artist, he made up for it with an affably likable offscreen image of someone that didn't take themselves too seriously. In short, he was never really all THAT as a karate-star, but people liked him. He's been in scads of movies - some of which are actually entertaining - and as he noted his box office pull as the square-jawed hero began to fade, he reinvented himself as a 'family-friendly' comic action star. Sure, 'Top Dog' was awful, but it was funny. Sure, 'Sidekicks' blew, but it was FUNNY. He's even been made into a cartoon (Chuck Norris and the Karate Kommandos - no, I'm not kidding), and stayed in the limelight long past when he obviously should have hung it up because his fans still love to see him.

Comparable to: Hulk Hogan. Who else? No matter how crappy he looks in the ring, no matter how much we'd like to see the younger guys helped into the big time, and no matter how much it annoys those of us that are 'purists', Hogan is over. Big.

This logically leads us to the other end of the spectrum. Consider how 'intimidating' many of the higher level actors can present themselves. Note that I'm not counting the likes of Joe Pesci, since that little so-and-so really IS a bad mofo (when you demonstrate the best way to tear off someone's ear or nose in a streetfight during a Playboy interview, you get the idea that someone has a bit of a Napolean complex). But, the bottom line here is that a good actor can present themselves however they choose. As badass as he can be, the Rock will NEVER be as badass as Samuel L. Jackson or Michael Clarke Duncan. The Undertaker will NEVER be as scary as Robert DeNiro was in Taxi Driver, Cape Fear or even Meet the Parents. As talented as Chris Jericho is on the stick, he'll never, ever EEEEEEVER have the range of Nicolas Cage - who can do badass (Kiss of Death, Con Air), funny (Raising Arizona, Trapped in Paradise) or compassionate/sympathetic (The Family Man, Leaving Las Vegas). In short, if wrestling is going to be presented as 'just a show', then they need to ramp up the capability of the performers to 'convince' us of it.

What can we learn from these examples? We've already seen the likes of people that were better talkers than performers being thrust into the spotlight before they were 'ready' - such as Disco Inferno, Alex Wright, or even Van Hammer; so don't misinterpret me here. I'm not saying one should grab someone out of the blue and try to shove them down our throats. No, as that really hurts the guys that have been in the trenches paying their dues - and people that resent you 'skating in' aren't going to go out of their way to help you succeed. However, if one can gather up marketable young talent - and then groom them properly on the nuances of in-ring performing for a couple of years - it could certainly pay dividends. Tough Enough's biggest failure was they put people in the ring before they really KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING. Result: They stunk the place up, and everyone hates them. It not only devalued them, it devalued the whole place since they made it look like you could 'make it to the big time' with a few weeks of training.

Therefore, my suggestion is that they get some people they know can 'talk' - possibly out of acting classes, or even through open auditions. Then they take these folks and pound the living crap out of them until they can work at least a three-star match blindfolded. It's not a quick-fix, of course, but it WILL fix things. And we want things to be fixed, don't we?

You're welcome. See you SOON.