WWE – Andre The Giant (Cert 15)

1 Disc DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 85 minutes approx.

A rare one this, a WWE release that isn’t exclusively a WWE production. Andre The Giant is in face a documentary by Jason Hehir for the HBO TV channel in the US, which the WWE had a hand in, naturally, with the archive footage and many of the interviewees featured. Of course, this means some of it will be the McMahon version of history.

Starting with an undisputed fact, Andre Rousimoff was born in France to small farming family in 1946, the third of four children, living a perfectly ordinary life until hit by a sudden growth spurt caused by a condition known as acromegaly at aged 15, and by 18, he was a towering 6’10”.

Because of his impressive size, Andre was encouraged to become wrestler and with farm work proven unsatisfactory, he moved to Paris and trained as a wrestler, supported by footage of young Andre training with a man half his size. This will astound those who have only known Andre from his WWF days to see him so lean and muscular, and before the acromegaly transformed his facial features.

He debuted under the name Géant Ferré, inspired by a French folk hero Grand Ferré, a lumberjack gimmick which morphed in Jean Ferré when Andre moved across to North America where he was known under variations of the “Giant” moniker. It is mentioned that it wasn’t until “a promoter in Chicago” felt that Giant Ferré sound like “Giant Fairy” that “Andre The Giant” would be a better name. FYI – that “promoter” was in fact the legendary Dick The Bruiser.

It was also when in the US that Andre’s height was exaggerated from 6’10” to 7’4”, which stuck for the remainder of his career. Wrestling historian David Shoemaker openly admits Andre’s wrestling height was fictional but the problem is there is no official record of his true height, although there are plenty of circumstantial photos of Andre with legit seven-footers where he is shorter than they are, confirming 7’ 4” was a myth.

Then again, so much about Andre is mythical whether true or embellished to reinforce his legend. In that respect, the tone of this presentation is very much geared at non-wrestling fans though not in a patronising way, nor does it exclude wrestling fans whether they are wise to insider facts or only know the WWE’s revisionist narrative.

For example, they explain the territorial system of wrestling in the 70’s and early 80’s as a background to how Andre was able to be a big draw across the US through word of mouth, in a time before cable TV enabled national broadcasting and of course the internet offered footage to anyone in the world.

Enter Shane McMahon who is in top shill mode, wasting no time in describing his grandfather’s WWWF promotion as the “big time” where Andre really made his name, before recalling a dubious story about Andre being upset at 6’10” Big John Studd (real height 6’7”) for stepping over the top rope like Andre did and legit beat Studd up for it.

Vince McMahon backs this up but neither are the worst offenders in bending the truth, as Hulk Hogan is interviewed here too. In fact, he gets a whole segment to himself to set the scene as the face of the WWF’s national expansion in 1984 and the build up to the classic Wrestlemania III match-up against Andre at the Silverdome before the fabled 93, 137 fans.

Hogan and Vince both spin a yarn than neither knew what the finish of the match was going to be or whether Andre was going to put Hogan over or not (think about that for a moment). To substantiate this, Hulk produces a hand written sheet in which he lays out the match, with a gap for the finish. Far be it for me to impugn the integrity and veracity of Hogan’s claims but for at 30 years old, that sheet of paper is in top condition.

Revisionist history aside, some of Andre’s other achievements deserve less cynicism, such as his role in the film The Princess Bride, leading to co-stars Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright and director Rob Reiner to recall how much fun Andre was but his recent back surgery meant he wasn’t as strong as he once was.

Andre’s legendary drinking habits are treated with borderline levity, as if having such a dangerously inhuman capacity for booze consumption is to be awed, although it is mentioned how it ailed Andre as his health declined, leading to his death aged just 46 in 1993. It’s things like this that appear to deify Andre instead of being treated more seriously as his escape from suffering as a giant in an unaccommodating world.

Whilst this documentary is very well put together and undoubtedly sincere, it is safe in its content, Andre’s infamous darker side, noted belligerent behaviour and intolerance for people, is glossed over or avoided. Conversely, it is surprising to see how much of the curtain is pulled back, revealing certain things, like Andre’s supposed 15 year undefeated streak being the WWF’s “truth” to sell the WM III match, although this comes from people not named McMahon.

There is a wealth of other contributors, including Andre’s brothers and sister, best friend and WWF referee Tim White, Jerry Lawler, Ric Flair, Gene Oakerlund, journalist Dave Meltzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the family Andre lived with on his farm in North Carolina. Unfortunately, this release doesn’t have any HOH subtitles and many of the interviewees are older with croaky voices – Vince’s voice is a raspy, gravelly whisper at best so even if he was being honest about something I couldn’t tell.

Given his legacy as a larger than life figure, intriguing character and wealth of stories that need clarifying or correcting, the definitive documentary on Andre The Giant has yet to be made, but this is a step in the right direction, offering plenty to wrestling fans and non-fans alike.

 

Extras:

German Language

All-Star Wrestling – August 30th 1978 – Handicap Match – Andre The Giant vs. Jose Estrada & Tony Russo

Showdown At Shea – August 9th 1980 – Andre The Giant vs. Hulk Hogan

Philadelphia, PA – September 24th 1983 – Steel Cage Match – Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd

Wrestlemania – March 31st 1985 – $15,000 Body Slam Match – Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd

Wrestlemania 2 – April 7th 1986 – WWF/NFL Battle Royale

Wrestlemania 3 – March 29th 1987 – WWF Title Match – Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Andre The Giant

The Main Event – February 5th 1988 – WWF Title Match – Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Andre The Giant

 

Rating – *** ½

Man In Black

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