If you’re a fan of wrestling now or you have been a fan of wrestling in the modern era, you really ought to see the new Paul Heyman documentary. Just last week, I wrote about the meagre offering that the WWE had put out for Dave Batista - this, by comparison, is probably the most comprehensive and dense pieces that I’ve ever seen the WWE produce. Heyman’s career is covered in two hours and little is left out, skirted round or overlooked. It is absolutely tremendous if not enthrallingly intense.
If you know the typical WWE documentary, you’ll know that the follow a certain pattern. Often what is unavailable is papered over by zooming in on stills or images from the period in question while narration does the rest. Here, though, we get access to pretty much everything and, crucially, I think more than in any other documentary piece that the WWE have put out to date, the star of the collection is the focal point for opinions and views on aspects of his career more than the onlookers. Far too often we hear phatic, empty, out of context snippets from talking heads who really had nothing to do with the superstar in question. As Jim Ross notes, Heyman “is the best orator working in the business today, period,” and here WWE let the finest talker in the company do what he does best.
Moreover, if you know the typical WWE documentary, it is fairly rare to learn much from them. With the greatest respect to WWE’s ability to package and edit the stories of their superstars’ careers, frequently they are just fun to watch; you’re taken along for a recap of what you already pretty much knew with the odd gem or nugget thrown in for good measure. With this, I felt like I was learning a lot. Often the talking head’s will point out that this or that had “never been said before” and say things like “I probably shouldn’t be saying this but…” I’d hate to deprive a wrestling fan of that feeling of discovery, so all I’ll say is look out for the contributions of Jim Ross, Bill Apter, Joey Styles and particularly Tommy Dreamer. Dreamer is so erudite and insightful; he’s a huge asset to the film.
The first hour chronicles Heyman from 11 year old bedroom entrepreneur (selling posters) to newsletter writer and photographer to 27 year owner of ECW and being at the helm of the sinking ship. It feels roomy and generous, and the ECW footage is excellent. In fact, to ECW fans it will make a perfect shelf partner to last year’s rather more depressing Barbed Wire City for content that will allow fans to reflect on what that time was like for ECW employees. The backstage footage of the early days is pretty extensive and for those lapsed fans will give enough alone to delight.
Naturally, you are drawn in by the man’s hugely passionate and charismatic delivery that you are inclined to believe everything that he says, but this is Paul Heyman - we have to take some things with a pinch of salt. His longstanding relationship with Vince McMahon is certainly told in honest-sounding fashion, though – he notes that it is a credit to Vince that he is even associated with the company anymore but then, “Vince says it is better to have me inside the castle p***ing out that than it is to have me outside the castle p***ing in”.
Jim Ross is equally honest. He is evenly kind and critical, in true, balanced JR fashion. Heyman states that he “learned more about performance from Jim Ross than anyone else in the industry” but Ross indicates that he “legit p****ed me off” because he was like an “abrasive” yet “bright troublesome student.”
Other professionals on hand to share their views on Heyman’s life and career are: Raven, CM Punk, Bill Apter, Larry Zbysko, Tod Gordon, Rob Van Dam, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Edge, Bray Wyatt and Renee Young to name just a few. And all indicate that Paul Heyman is, as RVD puts it, the “ultimate motivator” who gets people “to do so much for so little.” Not only that, but all who know him best share the view that that becoming a father has made him into a more mature, relaxed, reflective and reasonable man.
We’re painted a portrait of a man who has worked his skin to the bone in the wrestling industry who is now in the golden age of his life and career. He has, in some ways, sought redemption and found it but, in other ways, is unapologetic for his past mistakes and misjudgements: Apter notes that Heyman once fired his own mother; Steph tells us that he was the first writer that she has ever had to suspend without pay. The convergence of becoming a father, taking time out of the industry and then moving to being solely an on-screen talent seem to have made all the difference as Heyman is comfortable and happy in both his public and private spheres. And who wouldn’t allow Heyman that? This is a man who worked himself to the edge of destruction at several points in his career.
Otherwise, as you might expect, this is a 3-disc wrestling DVD that offers very little wrestling. Instead we have a collection of some fantastic promos throughout his career in ECW, WCW and WWE spanning 1987 to today. We see the changes in his character over time and we feel that maybe those altered nuances in his character are more just the maturing Paul. He considers himself to be a “far better performer [now] for having been out of the company” for some time and says that he is now “having a blast”.
Stephen Hawking says that the definition of intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. Paul Heyman has in many respects continually reinvented himself over the last four decades but has in equal measures simply adapted to the changing landscape of the wrestling industry. Either way you look at it, Paul Heyman is an outstanding performer who exudes an intelligence that many others don’t possess in professional wrestling.
Ladies And Gentlemen, My Name Is Paul Heyman is out on August 4th on DVD and Blu Ray: http://youtu.be/1VlewlkEJ-Q