Among the many people who are celebrating a birthday today, September 16th, is one Mickey Rourke. Born Philip Andre Rourke Jr. in 1952, he trained as a boxer before turning to acting and going on to star in Diner (1982), Rumble Fish (1983), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), and the erotic drama 9½ Weeks (1986), to name but four of the films he made before leaving Hollywood behind in 1991 and becoming a professional boxer for a time.
After returning to acting, arguably his most successful role to date was that of a different kind of 'sportsman', although still one who is found in the square-circle. Rourke portrayed the past-his-prime wrestler Robin Ramzinski / Randy "The Ram" Robinson in Darren Aronofsky's 2008 film The Wrestler, and received a 2009 Golden Globe award, a BAFTA award, and a nomination for an Academy Award.
And so what better time for us to devote a word or two to the noble art of grapple and grunt, and the men who both perform it and score for it.
Wrestling has long been a constant in the Olympic schedules, having first been contested during the Games of 708 BC, though the International Olympic Committee passed a vote meaning it will no longer continue that proud tradition from 2020 onwards.
Of course, the 2008 film focuses on "professional" wrestling - the fusion of combat sport & performance art popularised by the likes of WWE. Which in itself has a history worthy of examination, though not as long as its more conventional cousin!
In both the United Kingdom & indeed the United States it began as carnival/music hall entertainment derived from the Greco-Roman wrestling, first introduced as part of 1896's first modern Olympics, with a "no below waist holds" rule having been established as part of French showman Jean Exbroyat's travelling circus as far back as 1848 in the arguably more spectacular version of the sport.
Having decided he wanted to venture into the world of the performer (evidently enjoying the diversion so much he ventured into ballet with Black Swan two years later) it was time for Aronofsky to consider the music - as much a part of the pro-wrestling experience as the athleticism of its in-ring performers. With a working relationship stretching back as far as his first film Pi, Clint Mansell was handed the job! Which was his first in the world of film scoring, having previously served as lead vocalist/guitarist for Pop Will Eat Itself.
Aronofsky had quite a job on his hands, as he made clear.
"No one's ever made a serious film about wrestling, and I think that is because most people perceive wrestling as a joke, and because it's fake, and they sort of write it off."Whether or not that's fair comment surely depends on your particular point of view on the issue.
In an interview with The Line Of Best Fit, his composer would remark,
"Music is usually the last thing to be added to a film, and it's often just treated as wallpaper. They usually cut funding for it to pay for an actor's driver, or some shit like that.The temptation now is to look into whether that's also true of the sport the film depicts, surely? Perhaps the most prolific & longest-serving such master of music is Jim Johnston, still going strong having been working for WWE since 1985.
And what they fail to realise is that because the music is the last creative element to be added to a film, it's your last chance to elevate the scenes and take them somewhere new."
It s hard surely to disagree with the contention that,
"Catch a few minutes of World Wrestling Entertainment programming, and you'll quickly realize just how crucial its production—the lighting, the video packages, the pyrotechnics, the tailor-made entrance songs—is to hyping the action.Schoolboy wrestlemaniacs will no doubt agree with The Atlantic there.
Music is easily the most vital element of all. WWE's best themes are more than just earworms; they're songs with instantly recognizable opening motifs."
Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan, himself a lifelong enthusiast for grown men smacking lumps out of each other, has strong opinions on the role of music within it having been involved with first Resistance Pro & now Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, too. While with Resistance, in a sporting capacity he was able to work to prevent concussion, a not uncommon injury among those who practice a little grappling. And ESPN was full of praise.
"Resistance Pro isn't just about wrestling -- and what it is about might surprise you. Corgan is trying deliberately to get inside the sports world's head, making the discussion about concussions front and center in everyone's mind.
"I had concussions as a kid playing football and basketball," said Corgan, who was raised in Illinois, "and know what it feels like and to have someone say 'Just rub some dirt on it, and get back in there.""
Corgan reached out to his friend, former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute. Nowinski, who retired due to a concussion-related injury, also authored "Head Games", which illustrates concussions as a growing public health crisis.
"I said to Chris, 'What if we become the first wrestling company to work with SLI to make concussion safety part of our protocol?' Alongside the talk is real action, as Resistance Pro has its athletes undergo regular concussion screening," he said. "Injuries are nothing to be ashamed about. They happen, but you have to support the talent and not just look the other way."All a world away from World Of Sport....
ITV's attempt to liven up Saturday afternoons on this sceptred isle while everyone awaited the football results had an instantly recognisable theme which was the work of Don Harper, also known for scoring The Invasion for that other Saturday institution Doctor Who!
However tenuous the link, the man who played the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, would later narrate a BBC documentary on the golden age of British Wrestling.
Its appeal was simple, as the Daily Mail saw it.
"For children of the 1970s and early 1980s, no Saturday afternoon was complete without watching Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks wrestle each other to the ground in front of a hysterical live audience.
Adult wrestling was considered prime family entertainment, and girls and boys sat transfixed as the 26-stone, leotard-clad Big Daddy (real name: Shirley Crabtree) led the crowd with chants of 'Easy, easy' before demolishing his opponent with his trademark 'Splash', which involved felling them with his stomach in (often carefully choreographed) violent bouts.
The frightening-looking Giant Haystacks was his arch rival, and at 48 stone, quite some opponent, and most children, as well as the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, who both declared themselves fans, knew whose side they were on.
The masked wrestler Kendo Nagasaki (aka Peter Thornley) was another household name who rose to such prominence that his 1977 unmasking ceremony was televised."
Legitimate show of strength, or all outrageous pomp? You decide!