Wrestlemania 26: An eye-witness review

If, as previously argued, wrestling has the potential to be art, then Wrestlemania is its Hermitage, Louvre and Guggenheim all rolled into one, except far more popular. The 26th incarnation of this wrestling extravaganza, with eleven matches in total, was held in Phoenix over the weekend. To give you some idea of the scale, it drew more people to the University of Phoenix stadium (confusingly, located in Glendale, not Phoenix), than when the Superbowl was held there in 2008, and setting a gate receipt record of $5.8m.

Along with 72,217 other people, Chris and I were in attendance, and after the jump, you’ll find our eye-witness review of the sports entertainment spectacle. But if you want to save time, we agreed that next year we’ll watch it on pay-per-view…

It was my first time inside UoP Stadium. From the outside it’s not exactly spectacular – it looks like someone dumped a white spare-tyre right in the middle of the desert. But when you go inside, you appreciate you just how large a venue it actually is. I’ve been in bigger venues – the Rose Bowl in Pasadena holds over 90,000, the Berlin Olympic Stadium capacity was 110,000 when I visited it in the 1980’s – but those are both outdoor venue. Seeing 70,000 people with a roof over their head is quite something else [the roof is retractable, and they opened and closed it several times during the course of the event, for no readily apparent reason. Not so impressive: having to pay $20 to park at the stadium. Glendale has little public transport to speak of, so there was basically no alternative. When you are paying an average of eighty bucks for a seat, that should include a parking spot.

Now, there are large-screen TVs...
There are large-screen TVs, and there are LARGE-SCREEN TVs…

The main issue – and why we won’t be back – was the seats. “Did you bring the binoculars?” said Chris when we saw where we were sitting. We had actually paid more than average, but were still amazingly-far from the action. The pic headlining the article was taken from our seats – it may take you quite some time to find the ring. The screens around it did show the matches in progress, but if you’re just going to watch the event on television, that does somewhat dilute the point, no? Having been attending local wrestling shows for more than a decade, both here and in London, there’s an inverse-square law in effect, with regard to the impact the matches have – it drops off sharply with increasing distance. Pro-wrestling, like striptease, needs to be experienced close-up for the best results.

That said, the rest of the spectacle on view was undeniably impressive, with the arena turned into a massive cathedral of wrestling, filled with pyrotechnics, lights and really, really big video screens. The seats were also more comfortable than we expected – no bad thing, as we were in them for nearer five hours than four – and there was plenty of space just outside the section, if you wanted to chill, and get a drink or a souvenir. Though you had to be pretty quick with the latter: WWE seemed to have underestimated the demand for merchandise, and the T-shirts for the event were gone before about half-time. Though, I suppose, better to sell out than be left with 10,000 unused, and of limited appeal, after the show.

However, the main purpose is, was and always will be, the matches. Wrestlemania is where all the storylines which have been set up in the preceding months come to a conclusion – it’s like the series finale of all your most-loved shows, rolled into one night. At least, that’s the theory: particularly in a dull first half, there was very little to generate significant excitement in the crowd, either with the quality of the matches, or their emotional impact. Our major interest was seeing people we’ve worked with at the local events, like Mike Knox and ring-announcer Justin Roberts. Otherwise… Well, the opening match screened saw the tag title defended in less than four minutes: one wonders what the point of that contest was.

There was a brief uptick in the middle, when fan-adored Rey Mysterio beat straight-edge heel CM Punk. That had actually had a decent back-story, Punk having reduced Mysterio’s daughter to (disturbingly genuine-looking) tears during her birthday celebration some weeks previously, understandably incurring the wrath of her father. Both men are among the most gifted technical wrestlers in the business, and the heat they generated in the crowd reaction certainly surpassed anything we had seen previously. However, once more, the actual match was over in six and a half minutes: it deserved far more, and felt more like a warm-up contest than anything putting a full-stop on the feud between the two men.


And then there was Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon, chairman of the WWE. This one had its origins in 1997: Hart told McMahon he would leave the WWE for another company, but they agreed Hart would go out as champion. However, McMahon changed the script, unknown to Hart, and Hart lost the title in what became known as the “Montreal screw-job”. After the match, Hart spat in McMahon’s face, and the two were enemies – genuinely- for more than a decade. However, this year, Hart was brought back as a guest host, and from there developed the storyline which led to him facing McMahon at Wrestlemania.

The chairman brought out Hart’s family, announcing he’d bought their loyalty, but Hart said he knew that – his family had taken the cash with no intention of selling out. The entire family then proceeded to beat up McMahon. For eleven minutes.  Now, Hart had a stroke in 2002, and has hardly wrestled since (there were apparently insurance issues, with Lloyds having paid out ‘permanent disability’ to him), but this was just an embarrassment. McMahon has been the bad guy forever, but by the end, the crowd were just sitting in uncomfortable silence: I actually felt sympathy for Vince, which was hardly the intended outcome. The only thing worse was the tag-team women’s match: even as a fan of women’s wrestling, this was an abomination which should have been struck from the record. The widow of Eddie Guerrero – middle-aged and having never “fought” until her husband died – got the winning pinfall.

At this point, the show had been undeniably disappointing. Fortunately, the final two matches basically saved the event. John Cena has been WWE’s most popular wrestler for what seems like ever – an eight-time world champion, coming in – but the crowd appears to have grown increasingly-tired of him. The monstrous Batista, whose neck has to be about the size of my waist, was the adversary, and was the reigning champion, the heat helped by having herniated a disc in Cena’s neck in 2008. What really helped this match was the crowd being into it on both sides, trading chants for both men, etc. In the previous contests, it had either been obvious who they supported, or they just didn’t care. Not so here, and that amped up the intensity significantly. Cena finally won: make that a nine-time world champion.

Finally, it was Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, a sequel to last year’s contest, almost universally acknowledged as the best match of the year. It was set up that the defeat led Michaels to become obsessed with beating the Undertaker, who was 17-0 in Wrestlemania events [yeah, when the results are predetermined, that’s not as impressive, but simply being capable of taking part in that many Wrestlemanias is a feat in itself], which destroyed his partnership with Triple-H, costing them the tag titles. Michaels eventually got his rematch, after making the Undertaker lose his heavyweight crown – but the stipulation was, if he lost, it would end his career, so it was that against the most-fabled streak in professional wrestling history.


At last. The gap between bad art and good art has probably never been more starkly-demonstrated in my experience, as the final match lived up to all expectations and hype. Again, the crowd were a huge part of the experience, with dueling rhythms of “Un-der-ta-ker!” and “H-B-K!” [Michaels being known as the Heartbreak Kid] filling the cavernous space, as the two legends battled, back and forth. Even knowing the final result was predetermined didn’t matter: we avoid “spoilers”, preferring to be surprised, and genuinely had no idea of how this would turn out. The two men, both born before I was, threw everything they had at each other, up to and including a back-flip by Michaels off the top rope onto Undertaker as he lay prone outside the ring on the announcer’s table (left).

Right until the end, it seemed one man would prevail; then the other. Michaels just wouldn’t stay down, and the Undertaker seemed at a loss of what he could do to defeat his opponent. He seemed on the verge of showing mercy, but Michaels pulled himself up and slapped his opponent across the face, bringing him back. Undertaker delivered another Tombstone Piledriver – if you don’t know what that is, it’s what it sounds like – and that was it. The streak survived. Michaels’ career was over. However, the winner left the ring first, leaving it to Michaels, with both sets of fans now united in their vocal appreciation for what they had witnessed.

Of course, wrestlers have a habit of never “retiring”, and even if would devalue what happened in Phoenix on Sunday night, I’d not be surprised to see Michaels back in the ring eventually – as he said afterward, he’ll probably drive his kids nuts, after three weeks of him hanging around the house. But for now, it was an epic moment, one which almost redeemed the mediocre nature of what had gone before. We’re glad we went, and wouldn’t exchange the experience of that final match for anything. But next year… Even if it was in Arizona again (and it isn’t), we’d just buy the pay-per-view and stay at home with  some friends and a few beers.

The Art of the Remake


It’s remake week here at Trash City, so as well as reviewing a few examples of the “genre”, figured I might as well put together a few philosophical notes on the topic. Remakes tend to come in for a lot of flak, but they are something of a double-edged sword. Some of my favorite films have been remakes, and you might be surprised to learn that highly-regarded movies as diverse as Dangerous Liaisons, The Maltese Falcon, Against All Odds, Fatal Attraction and A Fistful of Dollars, all fall into the category to some extent. It is a somewhat nebulous group: technically, every film version of Hamlet ever made is a “remake,” but we’ve got to draw the line somewhere – so if it’s in the public domain, it’s fair game.

That said, there do appear to be certain guidelines which influence the remakes that are successful, from those that are regarded as cinematic abominations. After the jump, here are some thoughts on these rules.

1. Remake movies where there is room for improvement.
The better the original, the less point there is in remaking it. Any remake is always going to be compared to the original, and the better this was, the more likely your version is going to be found wanting. No matter what you may think, you are not Martin Scorsese. You are not Steven Spielberg. And you are definitely not Albert Hitchcock, Gus Van Sant, please note. This is where remakes like The Blob can hardly fail, because the original was not exactly viewed with reverence. Same with Piranha 3-D. The lower the bar was initially set, the less chance of failure. I still reckon a Creeping Terror remake could kick ass, because, to quote John Huston:

“There is a willful, lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures – I’d love another shot at Roots of Heaven – and make them good?”

2. Bring something new to the party.
There’s no point in doing something that’s a slavish remake, otherwise, what’s the point? Sometimes, there is an aspect which was obviously missing from the original, for reasons that made sense at the time – in the original Cat People, the sexual tension had to be underplayed, even though it was obviously a major theme, because of the censorship climate. Paul Schrader took that aspect, turned it up to eleven and made it in your face. Same with David Cronenberg and the body-horror aspect of The Fly.

3. The times, they are a-changing…
It should be obligatory for every horror remake to include a scene in which a character waves a cellphone above his or her head, and mutters, “Dammit! No service!” To steal from another song, Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be: so if you’re bringing your remake into the current day (as almost all do), you can’t pretend it’s still the seventies. People are now more connected than they were, and the ceaseless march of technology potentially affects not only horror movies but thrillers and even romantic comedies (You’ve Got Mail updated The Shop Around the Corner with email replacing letters). But some things just won’t translate. For some reason, this seems to affect movies based on remaking TV shows in particular: Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad and The Avengers all failed miserably to work in the present day, regardless of whether they retained the period setting or not.


4. Some things are sacred.
Even contemplating a remake of Casablanca should be grounds for flogging [unless, of course, you’re going to make it star Pamela Anderson and call it Barb Wire. In which case, go right ahead] As a general rule of thumb, if you want to remake movie X, you need first to have proven that you can make your own film as good as movie X. So, if Tim Burton wants to remake Planet of the Apes or Willy Wonka, that’s fine.  When Scott Derrickson wants to remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, and his track record extends no higher than The Exorcism of Emily Rose… Not so much. Just because you can remake a classic, doesn’t mean you should.

5. The world is shrinking.
Stop with the foreign remakes. Sergio Leone could get away with producing knock-offs of Kurosawa movies, because just about no-one outside of Japan had seen them. Nowadays, thanks to an unholy combination of the Bays [and I mean E- and The Pirate, not Michael], any half-decent movie is available anywhere in the world, usually within a few days of release. Some genres are particularly on the ball here: anime and horror, for example. Do not expect fans to be enthusiastic about your remake of a film they have already seen and either a) know and love, or b) don’t think is very good to begin with. Gore Verbinski’s The Ring has a lot to answer for in this area: namely, the line of inferior J-horror knock-offs foisted upon the American public.

6. Show some respect for the original.
It won’t help your cause to have the creator of the movie on which you’re basing your work, sniping from the sidelines. Witness the spat between Abel Ferrara and Werner Herzog over the latter’s “reimagining” of Bad Lieutenant. Ferrara said “I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they’re all in the same streetcar, and it blows up,” and Herzog – a man who had some epic battles with Klaus Kinski, of course – replied “Wonderful, yes! Let him fight…I have no idea who Abel Ferrara is.” That kind of thing is likely to alienate the people who most liked the original, and they could be your core audience.

7. Why are you remaking this?
The reason behind the remake is probably the crux of the matter. There are times when it’s obviously little more than sheer laziness: there’s no need to bother coming up with a new story, when there’s a script here which already proved (more or less) successful before? So is this because you think you have something new you can add? Because the original had a great plot, but the FX of the time weren’t up to the necessary level? Because the old story now has a new resonance? Or because it’s a job, given to you by a studio intent on raping its back-catalogue of titles for a quick buck?

Like anything else – adaptations, sequels, etc. – remakes are a tool, and as such can be used for good or evil cinematically. Into which category the results fall probably depends more on the talents of those involved in the project than anything else. But knowing this won’t stop me from calling in an air-strike on Hollywood, if the mooted remake of Blade Runner ever comes to pass.