Wrestling is real, goddamn it. At least real enough, and that’s the problem that the men and women of Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling face in Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana. This is the story of a small wrestling cabaret league (they don’t even have a ring!) that performed out of a gay bar and a scorned performer, the titular Banana, that peeled back the cover and exposed them to state legislation and oversight.
The film follows Seattle Semi-Pro and in particular two: the divided and aggressive Paul Richards, an outcast and product of substance abuse, the barely kept together Josh Black who wrestles under the gimmick of Ronald McFondle and is one of the lead bookers of SSP. The film tracks the story of the league from initiation to fall though the focus tends to be on Black and Richards as polar opposites of the same team.
Richards is portrayed as a unique, resourceful man: throughout the film they reiterate a story he would tell the other wrestlers about how he paid off his house with the change he gathered that people left behind in drive throughs and on the ground and such- conversely we learn that Black is a drifter of sorts, who found himself almost robbed on his first night in Seattle but who has since established a less-shaky foundation through his ritual of putting on clown makeup and fisting opponents on a play stage. The filmmakers uniquely capture the reflection of moments- many times they will juxtapose Black and Richards’ version of events and include a third party retelling- often another wrestler or SSP supporter. It’s these moments in which the film is made- these third party interferences from performers like The Unbelievable Owen Straw often give the film a slant towards the side of Black and SSP. However, they often comment on how Roberts is a loner, a friendless and quiet man and this is reflected in his segments- he is often seen doing everything in silence, from working out to scouring for said change on his bike around Seattle.
The true conflict between Black and Richards is substantial, in that it’s about substances. Richards is straight-edge, having had an alcoholic mother who died on the front steps of their house and Black and the SSP guys tend to be more party-hearty, and each side takes umbrage through the others’ views. Directors Ryan Harvie and John Paul Horsmann present Black usually having a beer or a cigarette or both, and every time commenting on how weird Richards was for not doing so.
We also see Richards in action at SSP and the warning signs are all there: Richards tends to be distracted, often shutting out advice and requests as The Banana, and as he claims, he is going to be a banana “in his way.” Throughout the film there are glimpses at some of the hardcore SSP events- bumps on bare floor, attacks from ladders, but when Richards comes out as the Banana his “performances” are more akin to a street fight- he is often seen using a closed fist or stomping his opponent into the ground, elevating the chances of actual injury.
Harvie and Horsmann attempt to present a unilateral view of a fringe and grungy release, and by the time the last half-full beer can hits the stage of the ReBar, they’ve given light to a world that few see as feasible. The film avoids the manipulative confessionals much to its credit and its largest strength is its raw presentation of the comments of its subjects- none of the interviews feel chopped or steered towards a balance. Harvie and Horsmann have a keen talent for keeping the view as neutral even though the participants themselves hardly call it down the line. Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana is a play-by-play look at people falling apart on the outside and coming together by breaking their bodies- its potential is clear and the film never breaks its own kayfabe for opinion. Pin this one down if you can.
Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana is currently playing on the festival circuit. Keep an eye on the film’s site for details about upcoming screenings.
Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the ’70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a burgeoning stand-up career and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain’t got time to bleed.