Musings of a Mark #14
I'm Your Papi! Part 2
March 7, 2009
By: Scott Webster of WrestleView.com
Yeah, I know...
A second Eddie Guerrero column in a row?! Why don?t I just scribble a picture of myself kissing ?Latino Heat? on the rear end, and be done with it?
Ahem ? Anyway this week at University - more specifically my performance studies subject - proposed an intriguing question: What is ?good acting?? The answer has been a thought I?ve pondered over for the past month, as I continue to explore professional wrestling and why it appeals to me. What makes those matches I hold in the highest regard so engaging, and how does that connect with matches that I enjoy to a lesser extent? Quite simply put, what do I like about professional wrestling? It's my belief that the answers to these aren?t entirely unrelated to my conception of ?good acting?.
So, as I consider those performances I remember fondly, certain frames taken from them linger in my mind. Guerrero, blood gushing from a deep laceration in his forehead, roaring furiously at John ?Bradshaw? Layfield; Umaga charging mindlessly at a prone John Cena, savage mentality setting him up for a major crash-and-burn splash through an announcer's table; Ric Flair, tears flooding his eyes as he begs good friend Shawn Michaels to finally ?pull the trigger? on a wondrous career; Orton, expression a mixture of incredulity and resignation as John Cena groggily slides into the ring, having survived an RKO on the outside. These are just some of the images that flash affectionately in my mind's eye.
But what exactly are these moments? Why are they the images that speak of the quality that I perceive in these performances?
It circulates back to the question of ?good acting?. Here I?d like to introduce the idea of ?non-actedness?. It's a concept that was covered in my aforementioned performance studies lecture, my understanding of which relates to the point where a performer ceases to be them, subsequently ?becoming? their character. Beyond their physical features, there's no real sign of the performer's actual personality, rather they are entirely consumed by the character and the world in which they live. Even when the character mirrors the actor's true-to-life personality (a la Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler), there exists a sense that they?re engrossed in this character's world rather than merely projecting a mask, or fa?ade.
Honestly, the depth and attention to detail some performers seemingly invest in their work is astounding. There's no way they can compute such intricate details, whilst maintaining that consistent immersion in the character. Every aspect of their performance communicates a particular emotion, mood, personality etc. from tone of voice, movement in the eyes, manipulation of facial muscles, to their posture and walking style amongst an insane amount of other signs involved in the curious language of the body. Try keeping attention to all these instruments at your disposal, without looking like you?re thinking about them as you convey an emotion. It's difficult to the extent of being close to impossible. Thus, I uphold this notion of ?non-actedness?, this remarkable talent of immersing one's self into a character and essentially ?living? their situation.
I?d explain this further with reference to Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, as his portrayal grants a marvelous study of how plentiful signs of body language are in addition to being evidence to the claim that ?good acting? requires a aura of ?non-actedness?, but I?m sure my readers don?t wish to read a film / performance studies essay. So, onto the wrestling, shall we?
Eddie Guerrero. Last week I presented a case for this man's versatility, delivering within a range of wrestling sub-genres (the brawl, the ?anchored lucha? / ?anchor? dualism, straight wrestling, spot-fests, bomb-fests etc.). But versatility is just one (valuable) asset that made him such a fantastic entertainer. What I truly admire about ?Latino Heat? though, is the investment in the prescribed character he often displayed. He possessed that ?non-actedness? quality in his craft, where you could break down a single piece in a match and discover remarkable depth in his performance. The frames mentioned above exemplify this, with each instance depicting a performer, or performers, completely in sync with their character. This was becoming a consistent trend in Eddie's matches during the final years of his life in my view.
Below are three reviews, each looking at the ?non-actedness? of Eddie Guerrero's performances. How he explores each scenario with depth, ?becomes? the character type and reacts appropriately to the story's twists and turns ? Watching any performer achieve that is what I find appealing in any performance text (though it helps if the narrative actually interests me too), and that obviously includes the soft spot in which I hold professional wrestling. Enjoy!
Eddie Guerrero vs. Chavo Guerrero ? Royal Rumble 2004
A minuscule nugget of goodness from 2004's Royal Rumble event. Strip away the compelling portrayal of simmering rage by Eddie Guerrero, and what you have is quite a bland, short match. The plot witnesses Guerrero restraining his volcanic temper directed at his nephew, whilst trying to prove he's the superior wrestler. At particular points, ?Latino Heat? visibly struggles with his emotions. His muscles tense, eyes bulge, and body trembles as his clenched fist rears back, ready to smash Chavo's face in. It's a great case for how multiple aspects of the body's symbolic language can convey a message, in this instance intensive anger. Every move Eddie performs, even a basic rear naked choke, bears the signifiers of barely contained emotion. It's this internal conflict that provides the focal point of the performance, with its effective manner of depiction by Eddie Guerrero subsequently lifting it above its otherwise ?average-ness?.
The expectation of such anguish erupting provides a satisfying pay-off during the aftermath, whereby Guerrero unleashes it all on those who wronged him. Eddie's loathing glare at his brother, Chavo Sr., is amazing, after beating down his son to a pulp before his eyes. It presents a captivating merger of hatred and betrayal, as two of his family members lie broken beneath him. In the end, this was a simplistic match layered with embodied emotion that elevates it above its simplicity. And this was technically a filler match!
Steel Cage Match:
Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio ? SmackDown 2005
My dear readers, this is the crown jewel of my column. The performance that made everything click, where I stood up and knew with certainty what it is that I?m yabbering on about now.
Three sequences / exchanges between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio exemplify the value I perceive in this contest. Allow me to elucidate:
1)Guerrero's entrance, and moments immediately following the opening bell.
Guerrero's expression, void of any recognizably positive emotion meshed with a hint of disgust (slight upturned nose, minute evidence of a snarl), exudes that sociopath mindset of having nothing to lose. The man has no joyous presence, and thus can?t be swayed by the threat of a tortuous existence within the cage environment.
He doesn?t acknowledge the crowd, nor does he face Rey Mysterio as he approaches the ring. It creates the impression that Eddie Guerrero, in his obsession in trying to defeat Mysterio, has lost all ability for normative relationship (an obvious reference to the fact that even his family had since disapproved of his actions). As Michael Cole states, ?he [Guerrero] has become this creature?. Both in narrative and actuality, Eddie Guerrero has transformed into this ?being?, almost inhuman in its relations with others. To effectively design such a believable portrayal, it would?ve required Guerrero to embody this persona - to ?become? this ?creature? through his acting - as his character does in the story.
Then we witness the slow, ominous turn and steady approach, still maintaining that lack of (humane) expression, combined with Mysterio's blatant hesitancy, crafting a distinctly portentous aura for Guerrero's persona. It's as great an opening to a match as I?ve ever witnessed, which serves to brew an atmosphere of urgency for Rey as Guerrero visibly has embodied this dangerous individual unafraid of consequences.
2)The point where Mysterio realizes that a 619 is impossible in the cage environment, to which Guerrero responds with sadistic glee.
The notion of ?confinement? is an aspect of the steel cage match that I harp on constantly, as each good performance in the sub-genre has it present. Hardy / Umaga and Christian / Jericho had figures on the outside, magnifying this notion by preventing the ?face? f rom escaping ?confinement?. Hardy Boys / Edge ? Christian, on the other hand, had bodies attempting to scale the cage walls in order to re-enter, hoping to rescue their partner f rom dire straits. But the idea of this ?confinement? applying to a constraint in move possibility is a fresh twist in my experience, as the cage prevents Mysterio f rom being able to hit his finisher.
The exchange between Guerrero and Mysterio that communicates such a realization is amazing. At a loss, Mysterio's body language (helpless, frantic movements of the arms and face) shows a sense of urgency that functions to emphasize the idea of ill-omened entrapment with such a demented opponent. ?Demented? perhaps isn?t the perfect word choice, 'sadistic? and ?remorseless? probably more adequately describes Eddie Guerrero's frame of mind.
Pay particular attention to Guerrero's taunts as Mysterio is unable to utilize the 619. That's not a prototypical ?heel? taunting, with exaggerated arrogance etc. That, my readers, is sadistic glee. And not even the explosive cruelty of a Randy Orton, where rage is the driving motivation, but real sadistic glee. The bemusement, intermingled with watery eyes and a slight snarl-ish quality to the smirk, isn?t natural. It's difficult to explain exactly what I mean by this, but were you to replace Guerrero with Jericho, Edge or even Orton (whose own characterization is closest to this level of psychosis), it?d be different. The eyes are Eddie's greatest asset in this moment, as they are almost imploring Mysterio. There's evidence of sincerity in them, as though they?re saying ?you?re trapped ? with me?, which combined with the explicit glee crafts a remarkably negative impression. Two positive emotions resulting in a negative concoction, it's that un-naturalistic marriage of circumstance (the entrapment), intent (Guerrero's self-destructive purpose of harming at any cost) and emotion (the extreme pleasure of having the opportunity to do so) that screams of the ingrained sociopathic inclination that has enveloped Eddie Guerrero. Just astounding work ?
3)The finish brings this obsessive sociopathic characterization back into line with narrative of having nothing to lose.
Just as the confining presence of the cage constrains Rey, it also demands sacrifice. He's the one trying often to escape Eddie Guerrero (a reversal of the traditional roles played by the ?face? and ?heel? within the steel cage, whereby the ?heel? is usually the one desperate to flee), and thus is positioned as to having to nail risky spots to succeed. A crash-and-burn chain of events sees Guerrero heading down victory path, only for his progress exiting the cage door to halt. Not because of a last ditch save by his opponent, but a conscious decision on Guerrero's behalf. He scrambles back inside, and nails one last, definitive Frog Splash to finally defeat Rey Mysterio.
It's a scripted moment, not an on-the-spur stroke of genius by ?Latino Heat?, but how he achieves the manner of portrayal is amazing. The crazed indecision standing not one step f rom victory is one thing is great (especially considering how dearly he craves a win against Rey Mysterio!), but the actions following the pinfall are the best aspect of this sequence. Having pinned Mysterio, Guerrero actually displays emotion, first intense brashness but then cockiness, as though he was the old outgoing variation of his self. But it's still different. Observe his trademark shuffle / dance; it's obviously that, but the movements are less pronounced, restrained even. The smirk is clear, but there's a malicious, malevolent quality to it. And those deadly hateful eyes haven?t changed at all. That little inclusion is symbolic of a potential redemption tale (could Guerrero be back on the path to his old self, having eventually alleviated the obsession to beat his former friend?), or just a tragically befitting image that signifies the deteriorated Eddie Guerrero, charisma and likability lost within consuming hate-induced psychosis.
In between these moments lies a great match, with Guerrero's role as the ?anchor? working well to convey his apathetic disregard for Mysterio's well-being. The cage is a weapon from the beginning, and there is an evident remorselessness in Guerrero's punishment given to Mysterio (i.e. the sloppy d ropping of Mysterio on the ropes, careless tosses into the cage etc.). Eddie's pacing contrasts with that of his more expressive, charismatic characterization (it's slow and deliberate), further enhancing his image as a man not necessarily concerned with winning, but hurting his cornered opponent. Great last ditch saves, and several spots, allow for a suspenseful, exciting match that's completely engrossed with one of the best individual performances I?ve ever seen.
This has since become a ?moment? matches, like those I referenced in the extended introduction. Amazingly, this isn?t even the undisputed peak of their series from 2005, which has me wondering just how good the others really are.
World Heavyweight Championship Match:
Eddie Guerrero vs. Batista ? - No Mercy 2005
Following the steel cage triumph, Guerrero loosened his character slightly. This progression is displayed via notable expressive signs (awkward smiles, small examples of showboating etc.), but it never signifies a complete return to the outgoing Eddie Guerrero of old. There's this feeling of something not being quite ?right?, and it's achieved through non-explicit (though not hidden) inclinations, such as the awkward air of his movements, an un-natural twist in his grin, uncharacteristic (compared to pre-obsessive Guerrero) restraint in his signature shuffle / dance and, of course, those sporadic loathing glares. This merger of expressive and un-natural body signs actually presents much of the narrative itself for the contest; which Eddie Guerrero will emerge once the World Heavyweight Championship is at stake? Purely through his acting, Guerrero communicates this sense of mystery and doubt, marrying contrasting signs to craft an unsettling aura for his intention without revealing too much.
The scripted moments of internal conflict (whether or not to use a weapon, or take advantage of the incapacitated referee etc.) are made more entertaining by Eddie's depictions of frustration and indecision. Like the choice made on the steps at the end of the cage match above, these moments aren?t creative strokes of genius by ?Latino Heat? but it's the manner of his presentation of them that makes them great examples of effectual narrative. Moreover, Eddie invests classic stooge-ness in the match (during his reactions to Batista's anger, bumping around comically for the champion's offense etc.), and trademark attention to detail (flailing legs conveying desperation in escaping a small package, the fantastic portrayal of effort in escaping a standard headlock ? yes, a mere headlock! ? etc.) to deliver in what would be his final pay-per-view appearance.
I?m surprised this specific match wasn?t better received during initial broadcast as it's easily one of the best of 2005. Similar to Edge / John Cena at SummerSlam 2006, which saw the Rated R Superstar struggle with his naturalistic tendencies to cheat too, Eddie Guerrero / Batista is arguably superior because of the subtle nuances within the challenger's portrayal. In other words, Eddie Guerrero's ambiguous body signs suggest greater ?non-actedness? than Edge's (still very good) exaggerated displays of desperation and conflict.
There's a collection of matches that I?d explore to extensive lengths with the notion of ?non-actedness? in mind, but an unfortunate side effect of having University to promote thought is that I also have work to complete. Thus, I must leave this edition of ?Musings ?? as it is, but below is a list of performances that possess this quality of performance (to varying degrees of competency) to orientate future viewing:
WWE United States Championship Match:
Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit ? Vengeance 2003
Observe the attention to detail throughout this performance, as well as Guerrero's magnificent stooge motions. Benoit is great here too, layering even the simplest of holds with urgency, pain and effort in order to engross the viewer (i.e. when he frantically searches for an escape to a key lock; or how he tenses up and flexes his muscles during a ?test of strength? - signifying added pressure and effort - complementing Guerrero comic tip-toeing conveyance of pain). The performance also serves as a great opening contest, gradually escalating into a dramatic bomb-fest. Easily the best match I?ve seen these two deliver together.
WWE United States Championship Fatal Four-Way Match:
Eddie Guerrero ? vs. Chris Benoit vs. Tajiri vs. Rhyno ? SummerSlam 2003
A fun cluster of sequences, though ultimately flawed in its reliance of clich?d multi-man tendencies (e.g. prolonged and inconsistent periods of selling on the outside f rom average moves). Watch for Guerrero's opportunistic / stooge characteristics, which not only provide comedy, but add a touch of drama to the match.
WWE United States Championship Match:
Eddie Guerrero ? vs. Big Show ? No Mercy 2003
The tentative approach by Guerrero as the ?anchored lucha?, combined with believable selling of the back injuries (Show is great as a mean bada$$ targeting that region as well), captures that dire plight of trying to overcome a larger opponent. An underrated offering by both performers.
Alas, another ?Musings?? has come to a finish. Next week, I promise to not have a focus on Eddie Guerrero, though I doubt I can avoid him completely. After all, it's a column looking at Rey Mysterio!
Booyaka Booyaka indeed!
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Keep markin? y?all!