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The Backyard


The Backyard


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In the post-Internet universe, the stages between amateur and professional have been compressed, especially among pastimes with uneasy dual citizenship in the mainstream and underground, like pornography, hip-hop, and wrestling. Because their popularity is based in part on their stars' humble origins, and because all three seem easy to do, fans sometimes assume that persistence and luck is all it takes to break through. Paul Hough's documentary The Backyard is about scrawny teenagers who videotape themselves wrestling and peddle their efforts on public-access or pay-per-view web sites. Like their counterparts in minor-league porn and rap, the would-be wrestlers compensate for their glamourless, unenhanced bodies by offering harder goods: They torture each other imaginatively, in makeshift rings booby-trapped with barbed wire, broken light bulbs, thumbtacks, mousetraps, and fire pits. There are still predetermined winners and ungainly choreographed moves, but people do get hurt, although real pain can be hard to spot amid the exaggerated howls. Hough traveled throughout the western U.S. and even to England (where the backyard wrestlers are too polite to be "extreme"), looking for explanations from the hobbyists and the hardcore. Some of his subjects are sort of sad, like the 17-year-old, self-dubbed "Vince McMahon Of Backyard Wrestling," whose vision and enthusiasm is compromised by the hideous halfwits in his stable. Others seem to have their heads on a little straighter, like promoter/performer "Scar," who grew up sickly and seems to enjoy controlling his pain. Then there's Andrew Cook, a.k.a. "The Lizard," a pizza boy in his mid-20s with a daughter and $10,000 worth of wrestling toys. Hough follows Cook to Las Vegas for a WWE Tough Enough audition, and gets an earful of the skinny, ragged wrestler's inarticulate star fantasies. The backyard-wrestling phenomenon is too recent for any real perspective to have developed, so when Cook insists that all he has to do is believe in himself and he'll make it, there are no pragmatic, cautionary backyard-wrestling elders that Hough can cut to. But then, Hough doesn't seem inclined toward scope and sensitivity: Though his film is consistently entertaining, it's sometimes no better than the product it scrutinizes. The director doesn't exactly hold his subjects up for scorn, but neither does he refrain from showing their most gruesome stunts multiple times, in slow motion, usually followed by a "shame of the nation" close-up of a child or parent watching the action. Tawdriness aside, The Backyard is remarkable for the intensity of the interviewees, who show a new kind of all-American gumption in the way they filter the mannerisms of low-rung celebrities through their own geeked-out, violent imaginations.