Raw Wrestling, Near You

Raw Wrestling, Near You, by Nicole Brady - 15th April 2004
(Credit: Fairfax)

To the outsider, professional wrestling might look like sheer madness. Grown men in lairy lycra outfits hurling themselves about a ring and at each other. To filmmaker Dimitri Ellerington it is pure athletic opera.

He was introduced to the Melbourne wrestling scene a few years back when a friend took him to a bout at the Reggio-Calabrian club in Brunswick.

``It's got all the dramatic elements of classic conflicts you know, good versus bad, betrayal, revenge, triumph over adversity all that sort of thing," Ellerington says by telephone from his Sydney base.

Someone else introduced him to Mr Damage, a professional wrestler and promoter, a meeting that led to others with The Ox (pictured) and Bully the Brawler and before he knew it Ellerington was hooked. With the three wrestlers battling for supremacy he felt he had the makings of a terrific documentary on his hands.

Having graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts' film and television school, Ellerington, 37, started shooting his film Big Men, Bigger Dreams off his own bat in 1999. He took a rough cut of a 30-minute film to SBS, which then funded and assisted him in fleshing the documentary out from mostly action scenes into a more detailed look at the people competing in an intriguing local sport.

The result is an entertaining behind-the-scenes look at how wrestlers like these get their mums to make their tight pink outfits or practise their moves with their girlfriends in the front garden. Interviews with parents flesh out the personas of people often depicted as boneheads.

``This is an attempt to break down the stereotype that wrestlers are thugs who just want to smash each other over the head. These guys are quite artistic in their thoughts about their costume and in their rivalries, and they're quite sensitive to criticism," Ellerington says.

As the film illustrates, and the men and their fans happily acknowledge, much of the wrestling is choreographed. (Though, as the film also shows, the script does not always run to plan.) The fakeness of the ``fight", however, doesn't trouble anyone, and this is where Ellerington's opera analogy fits in.

``Even though it's rehearsed, the audience still love it, it's about the spectacle, really. It's about the costumes and attitudes and the excessive gestures. It's athletic opera," he says.

``If you go and see a Vivaldi performance you may have seen it before and you know what's going to happen but you still want to see it again because you really like the spectacle, and it's the same with wrestling."

While we get glimpses of the audience and the subculture surrounding Australian professional wrestling, Ellerington has confined his film to the players. He says there is another film waiting to be made about the subculture, he wanted to keep his specific.

One senses he is charmed by local wrestling, from its history to its present incarnation as a sport with plenty of rough edges.

``Australian wrestling isn't like a neat, glossy package. It hasn't been tainted by too much money or marketing like American wrestling has . . . it seems to have a rawness to it, you can see all the frayed edges that appeal to me a lot. You can get close enough to the athletes. As entertainment, I reckon these guys are really trying."

Storyline Australia: Big Men, Bigger Dreams screens on Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS.


Official websites

AWF Pro Wrestling


Storyline Australia - Big Men, Bigger Dreams

Big Men, Bigger Dreams: Australian Wrestlers


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Greg "TNT" Bownds - 15th January 2004

Greg Tingle - 25th February 2004


Wrestling Directory