Monday, April 4, 2011

The Wrestlemania 27 review

This mania actually had some unexpected moments for me. Number one being the match order. Starting the whole show with the World Heavyweight Championship match left me a little gap mouthed. I don't know if I should be more offended for the title or for the participants. It was just an unsettling way to begin the event as most people might have missed it expecting a nice 'none title' opening match. The placement of 'Taker- HHH was also questionable as well as scrapping the US title match. All awkward things when you compare it to traditional pay per view set ups as the idea is to have a BIG finish with a gradual and careful glide throughout.

I however understand what they were trying to accomplish. It seemed to shoot for more of an ebb and flow type pacing where you are supposed to have rollercoasterlike ups and downs. Basically they applied some theatrical approaches to their match placement. It was gutsy and admirable, but not really 'successful'.

As a rule of thumb I think it will always be anti-climatic to try and keep going with the pay per view after one of these 'streak ending' 'Taker matches and that's for a couple of reasons. One being emotional investment by the fans, and the other emotional investment by the performers. It does not matter what rivalry you start, it cannot compete with what is now going to be a 2 decade long build. The fast revolutions on storylines guarantee that the amount of time invested cannot compete with an ongoing legend. This match had the shortest build on this pay per view, and yet it held the most impact. All the matches were good. Some were surprisingly better than I thought they would be including the couple of gimmick matches. But none of them contain the memorable impact of the fans believing, really believing that something amazing was about to end right before their eyes. And like all of the great streak matches before, for a moment there, you really believed it was going to happen, and that H was going to do it. You can't train that type of story telling and you can't write it in a script. It unfolds live right before your disbelieving eyes. Magic gentlemen, pure magic.

So let's start from the top shall we. The Rock was as I thought he would be, ELECTRIFYING. I really can't get enough of the John Cena cracks. For any other man this would be tired, but that was always the Rock's true talent. With him nothing ever gets tired.

I'm still not sold on Alberto Del Rio regardless of how well received he is among my contemporaries. But I told myself that like in the past if he started to become fruitful with his grandeur I would eat my words and jump on the bandwagon. So I told myself, this is the opening match of Wrestlemania. This story has had a decent build. He and Edge have been working house shows for months now, if it will ever start to happen, it will be here and now. Unfortunately there were so many participants in the match, the fact that Del Rio was the one actually challenging for the title got lost. This within itself is pretty self explanatory. I suppose I wanted a nice one on one where Del Rio would have to at least hold up his side of the tale because even at house shows the matches have been 3 ways between Del Rio, Edge, and another opponent. So it forced me to wonder why is this man in the race for the World Heavyweight Title if he can't carry a match with Edge during a house show? Let's be honest, carrying a match with Edge is like dead lifting a coffee cup. You should be able to manage unless your ego is getting in your way. I wanted this match to be more, because I have become accustomed to Wrestlemania matches with Edge being 'more'. I don't think the addition of Christian and Brodus was a good move. In addition to Del Rio's ring announcer, Del Rio's car, Michael Cole's Pod, and that creepy cube thing, there was just too much going on. However we did solidify the idea that Edge will in fact drop an elbow on ANYTHING.

Cody Rhodes has been doing an AMAZING job of fleshing out this Phantom of the Opera heel he has been developing. I mean I've spent the last month of Smackdown eating it up. I am hoping that it isn't lost just because this angle is over. This is a lifelong heel thing that should not be tossed out at the end of the Wrestlemania road. It is this wonderful old school heel bit that is just inspiring to watch. I love Rey so there really isn't much to do there but gush, so on to the match. While it was not spectacular, it was interesting, and kept the attention of the viewers. The knee brace action and face mask stealing really worked and got the most response out of the crowd I was in. There were some things that could've worked better. Somehow I was waiting for an actual berserker rage. It seems to me this character is building to actual homicidal tendencies. No one says he has to get away with it, but it needs to feel more like he will do ANYTHING to avenge what has been lost. In laymen's terms, one victory at Wrestlemania shouldn't be enough. This program can easily run to about SummerSlam if worked carefully.

I think the 8 man lasted exactly as long as it should've. This match was placed well overall. It was a quick and dirty camp match for those who love the camp, the kids, and it gave most hardcore fans their first bathroom break of the night. People complain about these matches, but honestly they are necessary for show pacing. This is a 4 hour live performance event with technically no intermissions. If these matches are not there, fan satisfaction overall dies out because the pacing is too much, too hard, and too heavy. Any live show is a balance, plain and simple. With that being said I want the Corre to be more. This is a dangerous time for these future main eventers, and I think the WWE has to be careful with how many of these 'gimmick' matches they get put in. Honestly I think groups should hit their first Wrestlemania with an impact. With lack of better examples I think back to the TLC matches that put Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boys, and the Dudley Boys on the map. This is where these teams should be. Let the New Nexus and the Corre show their quality instead of making them an afterthought. This is the stage, and the time is now.

I have been skeptical about Orton-Punk for a while because of the overwhelming heel on heel feeling the rivalry gives off. This match though was the only one that truly benefited from the 'flashback' package that is shown before matches because of how far back this reference was. It was a hard sell, but somehow the editing crew managed to make a 2 year grudge that nothing was ever done about quite plausible. The match was butter, undeniable butter. I always expect good things out of Randy, and have always been on the fence with Punk. But somewhere in his match against Rey Mysterio at Over the Limit about a year ago something changed, and it's been a good change that has shown clearly in all the things that Punk does now. It was like this wall between his true nature and his ring performance was torn down, and I haven't had a bad thing to say about his in ring performance since. This match had great personality. You didn't have to guess at anything that was going on. Everyone told you clearly. There were some awkward moments that seemed forced, like Randy's dead fall to indicate that his leg was shot. However none of them were bad enough to actually kill the momentum of the match.

I wanted Michael Cole to experience more pain. Period. If I had to be pained by watching him shamelessly reference Lawler's living and dead family members then he deserved to hurt more for it. Some would say that having to wear that unflattering leotard was enough. I say that hurt ME more.

I didn't expect much from the Diva match except the needful bathroom break after being thoroughly owned by H and 'Taker. With that being said I got more than I expected. Trish looked great, but that was a no brainer. I knew she'd come ready to go. Now for surprise number two, Snooki wasn't completely awful. No one was more surprised than me.

Miz and Cena had the match I knew that they were capable of giving. Not to say it wasn't a viable nice match but more to say I think Cena has a ceiling in the ring, and he has reached it. The Miz however has yet to reach his, and I would like to see him in matches that would explore this a bit more. The whole thing ended up being set-up for a future Rock-Cena super match. I love the Rock, but I think the champ deserved better.

Where were Sheamus and Bryan? Bad form to still be promoting a match 20 minutes before start time when you have no intention of showing it. Feels a little TNA if you know what I mean.

Some of the in between segments held a little too much camp. I love campiness in wrestling, don't get me wrong, it belongs there, and they are made for each other. The issue is that they are telling the same jokes over and over again with different dressing. Very few people can make that constantly work. Ask any old or current Saturday Night Live cast member. Steven Regal can however, and was the only one outside of the "Rock featured" skits that worked. I liked the glossier entrances over all. Some worked for some people and others were just TOO put on. H's entrance was spot on. Could not have been done better. Barbarian king made flesh; it was perfect, and a good way to erase the horror of the King of Kings disaster that was WM 22 in Chicago. Taker has always had the best entrance in wrestling so it goes without saying, but finally the challenger’s entrance stayed with you as the Deadman did his epic pacing to the ring.

I'm not one for involving religious allegory in wrestling because your fan base is multicultural, and the assumption that everyone is not just Christian, but Baptist is insulting. Considering the area you are having this in, it's also downright condescending. All I can hear is, "We in Georgia, and Lordy be they'd love them a gospel choir." Wow. I am with involving social media because your fan base is multicultural. In that promo The Miz was not arrogant, he was in fact doing all the things that Cena claims as his moral guide. Against the odds and wishes and desires of others he declared a dream, and made it real. He's on talk shows talking about the greatness of his chosen business and he's promoting his love for it, not himself. He is a hero, Cena a self righteous jerk. In a few words The Miz's was perfect and Cena's was an epic fail.

There it went for the grandest stage of them all Circa 2011 Atlanta Georgia. Now let's get to work on MIAMI!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Keep It Electrifying!

Last Sunday I did myself the favor of watching all 3 discs of “The Rock: The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment”. I love the matches, but as usual I marveled at the brilliance, and the flippant arresting charm of a good old fashioned Rock promo. As I watched the referencing of the build for the Stone Cold/Rock main event for Wrestlemania 17 a decade ago, I tried to put my finger on what it was that made me nearly come out of my skin at the thought of being at the Astrodome in Houston.

I recall the energy of the crowd, and the absolute devastation of the ending of the main event. It was this transcendent instance in the heart of Houston where our hero fell yet not in the way we thought. Somehow it would’ve been tolerable if he had just lost. Instead he turned on us as we sat watching and adoring him the whole time. Through no fault of our own the ultimate champion of the weak and downtrodden finally did the unthinkable and succumbed to the machine.

As the 10 year anniversary of what is internationally known as the best Wrestlemania EVER happens this Friday, I find myself looking for that potential in Wrestlemania 27. I’m looking for that potential blindsiding, searching for that level of ferocity and untapped potential wondering why I don't have it. I know many will blame the PG rating. I don't really believe that is at fault. Technically until the Attitude era, wrestling had always been PG.

When I watch wrestling now I notice a few things. I notice movement. I notice queues, and I notice attitudes. More than that I notice how different they are when there isn't a red recording light flashing from when there is one.

I personally have always preferred performing for live audiences without being recorded. Mostly because I noticed the disconnect between live performance and recorded live performance. The feel and energy I thought I was conveying from the stage as opposed to the perception of that same instance through the eye of a camera. The audience was with me, but myself, the other people on stage, and the audience were the only ones who knew it. Watching the recording later doesn’t reveal any of the nuances that I can feel from the stage. This can be a very confusing thing to use to sort reality from perception with so many different avenues to view this single moment from. Needless to say I understand why almost no television is live anymore.

What I’m talking about is the nature of television production as opposed to audience perception. When you are live, you see and feel what is happening. You can trick a crowd into believing a few things, but you can't trick them into believing everything. People instinctively know when something is 'too' planned and has just now fallen apart. The key to any great live performance is a very simple concept that not many people can achieve. Plausible versatility. It is the ability to make a F-up seem like only a slight hitch. In some cases make it even look like this was supposed to happen. Dancers are VERY good at this, and I believe great wrestlers are as well. That is when they are allowed to be.

The disclaimer to this entire piece is this; I would no sooner tell a writer for professional wrestling how to write a good rivalry than I would trust a professional wrestling writer who doesn’t program to explain to me how to write a loop in C++. While they both involve the verb ‘write’ the way the writing is done is drastically different. However I would let someone who is an avid user of the type of technology I program tell me what’s working and what isn’t. That’s how all technology companies do it because they realize that the average tech is ‘too close’ to see the issues anymore. So I find myself wondering how much in professional wrestling is suffering because someone who is a television writer is presuming to tell a live audience performer how to project coupled with no one actually listening to the users of the product in order to make the product more user friendly.

Live TV is a fascinating thing. It has to be one of the hardest things to gauge because of how it develops. The standard industry rule is never work with kids or animals. The rule should be never work with kids, animals, or live audiences. The tone of the crowd can make or break the atmosphere your writers intend. I think live television is the one avenue where too much writing actually detracts from the tone. First and foremost, to the audience, this has to feel LIVE. Being live and feeling live are two separate things. You cannot convince a live audience that what they just saw, felt, and heard was natural and unscripted if it doesn’t come off that way. As a result the overall product suffers from what feels like a lack of spontaneity. Live fans love Murphy’s Law. It gives them something to talk about with fans that weren’t live so they have expectations in that domain. And usually with the big stars they get it. It's still more so in house shows than in televised events though and the difference shouldn't be that telling.

My issue is that I see new performers that seem to have missed a step, like a "How to Sell a Crowd" 101 course; "How to Adlib" 210; "When a Bit is Dying" 315. It reminds me of what happens to the human body when a drug starts taking the place of a function. Eventually the body adapts to not even allocating energy for the function solely relying on the drug to do all the work now. While the use of writers in a lot of aspects has sharpened the pen so to speak, and streamlined the functionality, it has created a body that cannot function without it if it needed to. Which would be great job security if the methods used were always successful. There are things that happen live that cannot be re-written, and the performer has to be able to perform on the fly. I know that this is what house shows are for, but it's not a good gauge for what will happen in front of a camera unless you know what it is you are looking for.

I'm not sure how wrestling schools go about training. I've researched a few, and checked out their classes and training methods. Frankly I fear for the direction something that I've loved all my life is going towards. I see an avenue where many things can be enlisted and added. I have what some would probably consider crackpot theories on some of the things that I think would be useful in a wrestler's arsenal. I’m just not sure how else you would custom build a performer without seeing to the process from beginning to end. Right now wrestling feels and acts a little outsourced if you are looking at the next generation of superstars.

Hollywood realized that if you want a certain quality you have to build them yourself which is why there are so many collegiate programs that train people to work in the film industry. There are standards set and schools of thought explored and expounded upon. I really think professional wrestling needs to take the same position because what I find throughout is a lack of continuity when I look at these schools.

Were I head of whatever at the WWE, I would propose an actual professional wrestling farming school ran by the WWE to supply exactly what they are looking for in all aspects. Not just on-air talent, mind you, but in technical support, administration, booking, and right down to ‘in the arena’ merchandise stand operators because unlike a live show, you can actually manage all of those operational incidentals. Eventually you fill your payroll with ‘your people’ meaning that they are exclusive to professional wrestling. Your writers are trained writers for professional wrestling, your refs know how to adlib and buy time. Your announcers are wrestling announcers. That’s what they do. Your light and sound guys, your grips and runners all understand this dichotomy before they even show up for their first day of work.

I think to the debacle that is happening on Broadway with Spiderman the Musical and I see the problem relatively clearly. This is an instance of people actively trying to use hammers to secure screws. It simply is not a long term solution and it shows after a brief period of time. There is a reason why when Pink decided she wanted to do acrobatics during concerts she hired circus performers instead of stunt guys. This live audience, no re-take, rig this up on the fly atmosphere is their bread and butter. No one knows this subject better. Honestly is there a career or any type of vocational training that prepares you for the unique atmosphere of live recorded professional wrestling? Not really. I suppose I’m wondering why there isn’t more formalized training for something that is making millions of dollars annually.

Then I realize the very interesting facts about the guys that have had longevity. I look at their histories. They usually had a great love for wrestling as a child, or they are the sons and daughters of wrestlers, and the children of key people in the wrestling world. This is not a coincidence. This is an aspect that I believe is taken for granted more times than not, and I’m not sure that the well will continue to replenish itself. Were I in a power position in professional wrestling I wouldn’t expect it to. I would instead look to the future of how this can be expanded, modified, and ultimately refined without losing that needful sense of live spontaneous action.

Wrestling has had some wonderful accidents over the years. I felt like these 'accidents' were obvious signs and could be used as guides to make sure these lovely accidents aren't accidental at all, but carefully cultivated. I'm not sure if professional wrestling is still feeling its way out, or if it's committed itself to gambler's tricks and swings of good luck to see it through. I do know that no industry, even gambling, has survived on luck and happy accidents alone.

Well enough of my ramblings. I’m going to look forward to Wrestlemania 27. I’m going to remind myself of the passion, the fervor, and anticipation the ones I’ve been too have filled me with. On Sunday I’ll go to my bar, saddle up, and let them wow me again.