SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The Road to WrestleMania is coming to its final destination of New Orleans this coming week. I will be attending the event live for the 16th time in 17 years, but I have not been excited by the pathway leading to the Grandest Stage of Them All. The lack of larger-than-life characters and incoherent storylines have disconnected me from being able to watch the show. Although I have been dissatisfied with the current WWE product for the past few years, last night I was reminded of why I became a wrestling fan.
I attended the HBO Premiere of the Andre the Giant Documentary in Hollywood. Here are some live news and notes from the event as well as my thoughts on this excellent film.
The event took place at the Arclight Pacific Cinerama Dome, one of the most prestigious movie theaters in Los Angeles and the site of many major film events. They had a red carpet setup on the sidewalks of Sunset Boulevard leading into the theater. Upon my arrival, I saw many big-name wrestlers including Big Show, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Mark Henry, and others giving interviews on the red carpet to a few select journalists and photographers.
- The screening was open to invitees and the press only and the audience was about half full. I received my tickets from Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America. Thank you to this wonderful charity for this fantastic event.
- I spoke to Stephanie McMahon for a few minutes before the show as Triple H spoke to Bill Simmons, the creator of the movie. Stephanie was extremely friendly, and I told her I admired her heel character and she reassured me that she is not like that in real life. I thought to myself that I would respect her more if she really was the evil tyrant. She thanked me for attending WrestleMania every year and asked numerous questions. I actually had to cut the conversation short to go to my seat as the film was about to begin.
- Bill Simmons introduced the feature, and it was obvious this was a project he was passionate about.
- The movie started out with vintage photos and videos of Andre’s youth, and it was shocking to see him almost look like a regular guy as I had only seen him near the end of his career as his health started failing.
- It was obvious from the whimsical tone of the film that it would portray the Giant as a larger-than-life folk hero, which in many ways he was. It discussed him growing up in rural France and how his childhood struggles with his size led him to finding an outlet in the ring.
- The archival footage of an agile young Andre was a fantastic contrast to the immobile immovable object he became in his final years.
- The film chronicles his days in the territory system as those interviewed mentioned that he was a bigger attraction if he was not seen too often. Vince McMahon discussed how his dad would lend out Andre to fellow promoters and that he was the biggest sports star in the world because of his immediately recognizable appearance and persona.
- Hulk Hogan was extensively featured in the documentary and he recalls how Andre was a big brother as well as an idol to him. Hogan was sitting a few rows back from me, and I turned around a couple times to see him emotional in his seat. This was a surreal experience for me watching the Hulkster see himself on screen.
- The documentary heavily showcased Andre’s mainstream appearances on talks shows, television programs and movies. His role as Bigfoot in the “Six Million Dollar Man” was particularly noteworthy.
- There was a large section of the film devoted to his starring role in The Princess Bride. Rob Reiner, Billy Crystal, Robin Wright, and Cary Elwes all shared fond memories of working with him and how he truly was a friendly giant.
- The movie also covered Andre’s less friendly side as Hogan and others said that when you were not on his good side, his opponent would have problems. Randy Savage and Big John Studd were amongst those that he did not like working with.
- The climax of the film was the build to the legendary WrestleMania 3 main event between Hogan and Andre. This 15 minute segment was thrilling, and I had chills in the audience seeing the unforgettable buildup. It was presented as a major mainstream pop culture event, which in many ways it was. I attended the film with my friend Tremain Hayhoe, the director of the feature film “Rideshare.” He is not a wrestling fan, but even he was in awe of the presentation.
- I was a little bit skeptical of how McMahon and Hogan stated that they had no idea if Andre would do the job until the match actually began. Hulk showed handwritten notes outlining the match, and that he did not know if Andre even read them until they were followed closely during the actual contest.
- WWE should study this portion of the documentary to reeducate themselves on how to properly build larger than life characters and take their time in presenting an epic clash of the titans.
- The most emotional part of the documentary was how it presented the struggles Andre felt being an outsider almost unable to function in a world that was not prepared for his size. He was extremely sensitive to this and others discuss how he felt ostracized like a freak of nature.
- The most fun part of the film was how Hogan and others talked about how Andre was a giant hit with the ladies, and there were some wonderful photographs of him with an entourage of women like Ric Flair
- There were also some hilarious stories that presented Andre as a Paul Bunyan-type legend that added to his aura. Even the finale of the film which outlined the circumstances of his sad death only built up his myth. Supposedly Andre had visited doctors in the past who offered him options of surgery and treatment that could have enhanced his life, but he was resigned to the fact he would not live a long life but would live it to fullest.
- After the film, celebrities such as Bill Simmons, Dana White, some MMA fighters and more were hanging out in the hallway and posing for photos.
- There was a VIP after-party at one of the hottest clubs in Hollywood down the street. This was an extravagant event with open bar and French buffet dedicated to the Giant’s roots in France. The gigantic statue of Andre was imported into the club and fans posed for photos next to it.
- I talked to fellow author David Shoemaker, who podcasts with Bill Simmons. Shoemaker appeared in numerous interviews in the film and he seemed to be extremely happy with the film.
Overall, it was a unique and unforgettable night that combined the best in movies with the best in wrestling. It was surreal to see wrestling presented with such respect and adoration in Tinseltown. It was a magical night that could only take place in Hollywood and got me excited about the Road to WreslteMania.
Speaking of WrestleMania, check out the latest episode of The Pro Wrestling Top 5 as Rich Twilling and myself discuss the Top 5 Wrestlemania Performers of All Time. Who is Mr. Wrestlemania?
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