Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Life and Legend of André the Giant: Review

Few subjects seem as appropriate to being told in graphic novel form as the life of André the Giant. It's almost too easy and obvious to say he was larger than life, but it's definitely true, not only of his physical stature but of his inner life, his kindness and the problems he encountered daily. It's not at all impossible that this story could be made into a movie (modern special effects might enable an actor to portray him in a movie, and Hollywood recently got professional wrestling "right" for the roughly first time in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler,) but Box Brown's voice in telling the story here feels uniquely suited to it. It's balanced, nuanced between the kindness and loneliness that made André a compelling, complicated person. We get a view of André that is intimate despite being from the outside (and often admittedly speculative) sympathetic but not overly sentimental, and thus the story feels real and true, even if it emerges from decades of unverifiable memories, rumours, and legend.

The story follows a more or less classic biography structure. André is unusually large even as a 12-year-old in France, and ends up wrestling practically by default. As he rises in popularity, there's a great scene with Vince McMahon Sr., which shows how good the book is at getting into the world of pro wrestling, where he examines that as impressive as it is just to see André, there are ways to present him that better enhance that spectacle. At a few moments throughout the book, such as this, followed by the analysis of a pro-wrestling handicap match (where the Giant squares off against two opponents at once) and a boxer-versus-wrestler match with Chuck Wepner (the inspiration for Rocky Balboa) Brown shows his keenness for the subject matter, elucidating for the audience what every move in a match is meant to accomplish in telling the story for an audience. The book climaxes, more or less, with a blow-by-blow breakdown of André's famous match with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania III (which I've actually written about before.) It's a great use of form and medium.

André's meteoric rise, coupled with the natural shenanigans he got up to as a Giant living in a world too small for him, give the story a lightness, but it often and effectively reminds us how literally painful life was for André - not just that he was physically disabled by the condition that caused his success, but that he was emotionally distanced from everyone around him, and likely depressed as a result of being told he wouldn't live past 40 (he died at 46.) The balance of humour and pathos is kept very strong by the art, which in its clean lines and puffed-out anatomy do well to represented the over-sized world of wrestlers. On the surface, it appears simple, but it conveys the depths of its characters very well. One scene, where Bad News Brown confronts André over an overheard racial slur, could have been hard to watch unfold under a different pen. As the story goes on, much as in real life, André seems to become bigger and bigger. In general, the elastic reality of it serves as an unconscious reminder that the biography we're reading isn't meant to be a strict factual account (although a helpful endnote and bibliography section lets us know who to take issue with if the stories aren't true) but to evoke the overall spirit of the story, the characters, and the unreal world of wrestling.

It can be hard to get these things right, and to make them appealing for the non-wrestling audience. Dealing with pro wrestling, especially during its 70's heyday, is tough because the truth was heavily guarded then, and what we know now is only what has managed to stay alive in the minds of those who were there, usually speaking long after the fact. My love for pro wrestling comes from an admiration of the way the stories are conceived and told, built bigger than reality, and it's clear Brown is with me on that score. And he could not have chosen a better subject: you get a well-rounded sense of André's humanity, as when he places his hand on Robin Wright's head to warm her during a cold night shoot on The Princess Bride, or how the situation with Bad News is resolved, but also the faults he carried with him as a result of his life experience, his loneliness at the way people saw him as being alien to them, his temper and his demons. It's unflinching but rendered lovingly.

André the Giant was deservedly a legend while he was alive, and it's only fitting that that legend has grown in the years since. Box Brown has made a great contribution to not only André's legend, but to the depiction of the world of wrestling overall.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

That Old Familiar Feeling: Kiesza, "What Is Love?"

I've just started a new job after keeping the old one for five years, and as similar as it is to the old one it can't help but bear its differences. I find myself frequently saying to my new co-workers "Oh, we used to do this" or "We had things arranged that way," not to be difficult, but just to sort of take stock of what I need to get used to. Life's like that sometimes, where familiar things are arranged in a way that takes some getting used to. A dance song made into a lovely ballad, for example.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

(Fucking) With The Wrong People: Thoughts on The Walking Dead Premiere

By now we pretty much all know that The Walking Dead is not a horror show. There are often tight, suspenseful situations that keep us on the edge of our seats, but over the course of four seasons, (now starting its fifth) our heroes have developed enough best-practices to deal with the facts of zombie (sorry, walker) life. They see a horde of walkers and, if the numbers are manageable, they can confidently rush up and re-kill the living (undead?) hell out of them. It makes for some pretty bracing battle scenes, and it adds an extra environmental spice to the real terror of the show: the evil that people can do to each other, especially ones who have made it this far into the zombie apocalypse by letting their humanity slip away.

It makes for some good TV - it's always fun to see people who have gone past the point of no return go up against the protagonists we have faith in - but that doesn't really make it a horror show, either. No, one thing was made perfectly clear by the end of last season's finale, where Rick, trapped with most of his friends in an inescapable cannibal deathtrap, chillingly announced that their captors were "screwing with the wrong people" (re-dubbed to "fucking," to great effect, on the DVD/Blu-ray release)... these people are not just survivors, they're action heroes. Hell, they're basically superheroes.