Tuesday, November 10, 2009

complete Antelope Valley Press article.

NOTE: Click image for the big picture.

This article appeared in Friday's edition of the Antelope Valley Press. It appeared in their Friday supplement section. Very impressed to see it shares the same page that features a review of Michael Jackson's This is it.

The article manages to include Don't Go In The Church!, working at Disneyland (without mentioning the name), a bit about growing up fundamentalist in Jacksonville, and professional wrestling, without missing a single beat!

Film documents devotion to violent craft.
By Lavender Vroman
Antelope Valley Press, Showcase Editor
November 6, 2009

When director Dwayne Walker started making the documentary “Wrestling Then and Now,” he didn’t have much sympathy for those who participate in the violent, flashy sport.

When I first put this movie together, I kind of had a superior attitude toward some of these wrestlers,” said the 48-year-old filmmaker, who lives in Long Beach.

“Some of these young wrestlers are just putting their bodies through so much hell and getting paid very little for it.”

After abandoning the project, and then returning to it about six years later, Walker found himself working on the custodial staff at a major amusement park.

“My body was just rebelling against me. It just wasn’t used to that,” he said. “My paycheck, it was like working two or three jobs and only getting paid for one job. Now, I’m re-editing (the film) and I’m realizing, ‘Hey, aren’t I doing the same thing?’”

Walker said he realized the wrestlers were more noble than him because they don’t complain about the damage inflicted on their bodies.

“They’re sacrificing their bodies because of something they want. Suddenly, these wrestlers are serving as an inspiration to me. Suddenly, it was like this weird thing where this movie was inspiring me.”

Walker ended up quitting his amusement park job to pursue more satisfying endeavors. The completed documentary “Wrestling Then and Now” will premiere Saturday, Nov. 7, as part of “Sound of the Body Slams: Wrestling in Documentary Film” at Antelope Valley College.

The event will also feature a screening of director Arthur Cauty’s “Hard Knocks” which explores the skill, aptitude and dedication required in wrestling; an appearance by wrestling tag team The Ballard Brothers; and a discussion with Walker.

The film festival is recommended for mature audiences. Walker said his documentary contains some adult language and wrestling violence.

“Sound of the Body Slams” coincides with the college art gallery exhibition, “Beyond the Ring: The Art Careers of Professional Wrestlers,” which features the works of Steve “Strong” Cepello; Marc Letzmann, aka “Excalibur”; Jerry “the King” Lawler; Pete Bregman; and Ted Lewin, author of “I was a Teenage Wrestler”.

According to Walker, the film festival and exhibition came about after he sent Antelope Valley College a copy of his short film, “Don’t Go In The Church!”, which deals with the subject of child abuse by Protestant clergy. He also threw in a copy of “Wrestling Then and Now.”

Walker said he contacted art gallery director Christine Mugnolo, who told him she was interested in the wrestling documentary and wanted to organize an art show.

“I’m kind of on cloud nine, the fact that this movie inspired this gallery show,” the director said.

“Wrestling Then and Now” explores the East Coast’s independent wrestling scene, including the injuries, the women’s division, overzealous fans and the system by which wrestlers “pay their dues”.

It features interviews with such “old school” greats as Killer Kowalski, Nikolai Volkoff and Don “Dr. Death” Arnold, and younger wrestling stars, including Homicide, Lowlife Louis Ramos and the Mambo King.

The East Coast wrestling community is a far cry from the ‘glitz’ of the World Wrestling Entertainment empire, Walker said.

“It’s more of a blue collar crowd. You can actually meet the wrestlers, they can sign autographs, you can have conversations with them. It’s my understanding that there really isn’t an indie scene like that out here in Southern California. In New York and New Jersey, it’s a part of people’s life.”

Growing up surrounded by Christian fundamentalists in Jacksonville, Fla., Walker said his childhood love of movies was squelched by his church’s strict disapproval of the cinema.

“I really fell into it hard, too, to the point that I wound up giving up movies for a while.”

When Walker went to college, he started seeing films again. “Unfortunately, I just couldn’t recapture that first love that I had for movies,” he said.

His passion for the cinema didn’t return until the late 1990’s, when he began videotaping wrestling matches in Southern California.

“It just took me away from all of this gloom and doom and hell and damnation,” Walker said.

Through his videography work, the director met wrestling writer and radio show host Evan GInzburg, associate producer of last year’s Oscar nominated drama “The Wrestler” starring Mickey Rourke.

Ginzburg regaled Walker with stories of wrestlers he knew on the East Coast.

“Eventually, he told me enough stories. . . that I said, ‘Ok, maybe I should take him up on this,” Walker said.

The director stayed with Ginzburg in New York for three weeks in 2002, doing nonstop interviews with wrestlers.

“Every single person practically had a hard luck story but there were all about the same thing, ‘This isn’t going to make wrestling look bad is it?’” the director recalled.

“My movie, believe it or not, besides all the hard luck stories, is practically cotton candy because I’m paying tribute to them.”

After a conflict over footage of one of the featured wrestlers, Walker set the project aside. It wasn’t until “The Wrestler” was released that he was inspired to revisit and re-edit the film.

“Wrestling Then and Now” is on sale at Walker’s Web site, walkertown.com.

As for AV College’s elevation of wrestling to an art form, Walker said he wholeheartedly agrees with the approach.

“I do think of it as an art form. I think of it as an extension of the morality plays back to the medieval era. To me, at its best, I see it as like the medieval theater where you have the good guys and the bad guys. When you look at it like that, the question of ‘Is it fake?’ doesn’t even play into it.”

Used by permission.

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