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What U.S. Foreign Policy and Pro Wrestling Have in Common - Paul Jay

On the Last Minute Wrestling podcast, Paul Jay discusses the situation in Ukraine and his film  “Hitman Hart, Wrestling with Shadows”. 

TRANSCRIPT

Francesco Mandolini

Today’s guest of the Last Minute Wrestling podcast is Paul Jay, a director who did the wonderful documentary Wrestling With Shadows about Brett Hart and the Screwjob of Montreal in ’97. He is also the host of theAnalysis.news. So Hi, Paul, thank you very much for being here, and the first question straight out of the bat. Is this the first time that a guy from Italy is interviewing you?

Paul Jay

No.

Francesco Mandolini

Okay.

Paul Jay

It’s the first time a guy from Italy is interviewing me about wrestling, I think, but it’s not the first time a guy from Italy has interviewed me.

Francesco Mandolini

Okay, perfect. Well, it still counts in one way or another, right? But yeah, don’t worry. We are pretty much famous for being the wrestling podcast that really doesn’t talk too much about wrestling. Very little wrestling will be discussed during this interview. And before we press the record button, you mentioned to me that you feel that wrestling is something that you can compare to today’s politics, isn’t it?

Paul Jay

Yeah, I think on many levels. First of all, Donald Trump, I believe, actually was trained in how to be a politician during his time at the World Wrestling Federation. He had this whole storyline going with Vince McMahon, which I think ended with Trump beating McMahon and getting to shave his hair off or something. I can’t remember the whole thing.

He learned how to stand in front of crowds with thousands of people and perform the character Donald Trump. I don’t know if he had had much experience doing this before. But beyond Donald Trump, I think wrestling is a good metaphor for today’s politics because, as we all know— although when I made Wrestling with Shadows, we didn’t all know that wrestling is theatre.

I think our film was the first film that really pierced the veil, the kayfabe veil, and showed that wrestling was scripted. It was all worked out. And in fact, it was after the film that McMahon and WWF, later WWE, essentially had to acknowledge, even within the storylines or at least publicly, that it was all theatre. I think a lot of people knew, but it’s surprising how many people didn’t know.

At any rate, the thing is, while it’s all theatre and I think so much of, certainly American politics, but I’m sure politics in practically every country around the world.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, pretty much.

Paul Jay

It’s very much a false theatrical presentation covering up what really goes on behind the scenes. Now that’s not to say there isn’t real competition in wrestling; there is. Even though it’s scripted, who wins and who loses, who performs better, and most importantly, who gets the crowd to pop, that’s the competition. And the more you can get the crowd to pop, the more matches you’ll get, the more scripts will favour you. And favouring you doesn’t mean winning. Favouring you means giving you an increasingly prominent position where you appear on the bill and so on.

So, politicians have to prove to their multi-millionaire and billionaire backers that they can get people to vote for them with mostly a bunch of bullshit and empty rhetoric, but performance. It’s the same thing at wrestling. So even though the performance of politicians is bullshit, they are still having to prove that they can get elected to the people with money.

Now, there are some exceptions. There are a few politicians in the U.S. and Canada, and I’m sure there are some in Europe who actually do believe in trying to make change, and they have some courage of their convictions, but there are very few of them.

Now, underneath this, what you see in wrestling is, first of all, there’s an art to making a hit look real. It’s mostly the person getting hit that has to have the art because the person hitting has to make sure they don’t actually hit. You get as close as you can, but the person who really sells it is the one that gets hit and knows how to jerk their head and fall down and make it look real. These are all tricks of the trade in politics as well, and underneath all of this is a very big corporation, in terms of the World Wrestling Federation, WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment] now, and it’s a multi-billion-dollar business. I don’t know if it’s quite as big as it used to be when we made the film.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, probably even bigger at the moment because—

Paul Jay

It’s even bigger. Wow.

Francesco Mandolini

It branched out in many different avenues as well.

Paul Jay

So there’s a lot of money at stake, and the people that own it, Vince McMahon and Linda McMahon, are very close Trump supporters and financers. Linda McMahon was actually on Trump’s Cabinet and is part of a right-wing cabal that is trying to retake control of the American government and state. It’s becoming a very dangerous phenomenon, the cabal that uses Trump as a vehicle. I don’t know whether, and I doubt that McMahon and Linda McMahon are part of this kind of Christian nationalist, Christian fascist phenomenon. I think that what goes on in the ring in wrestling is a little bit too degenerate, too obviously, for the Christians to embrace, although I’m sure lots of them watch it.

But there’s a kind of unholy alliance here between a group of mostly secular billionaires and multi-millionaires who, just like the tax cuts, like the deregulation. And in wrestling, in Vince McMahon’s world, a large section of his audience votes for Trump. So that, from a purely commercial angle, it helps him to be allied. Within that cabal are billionaires like the Koch brothers or Robert Mercer, who really are far right-wing zealots, and in all likelihood, not likelihood, we’re pretty sure, they are part of this Christian nationalist, fascist movement in terms of the money.

And there really was an attempted coup like I’ve been saying if people watch theAnalysis.news. January 6th was just the final act of a failed coup. The real coup attempt happened before January 6th. So this wrestling cabal, the wrestling show, is like the theatre.

Like you take what’s going on in Ukraine now. You have a great deal of theatre taking place on all sides of this. Why is the United States and Western Europe— why on earth are they refusing to simply say Ukraine will never become part of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]? Well, it’s because it’s a pissing match. It’s posturing. It’s this sort of geopolitical strategic thinking, which is very much driven by the military-industrial complex. They know they can make money out of almost war. I mean, they make money out of war too, but they can make tons of money out of almost war.

Now, I think everybody knows that there is no way NATO is ever going to have Ukraine in it. There’s no way all of Europe will agree to it. Even the United States, in spite of all the rhetoric, I can’t believe they actually want Ukraine in NATO. Do they actually want an obligation to have to send troops into Ukraine? Very unlikely. So what the hell is this all about? Why don’t you just say, okay, for the next 35 years, we won’t even ask Ukraine to be in? Well, because this tension serves geopolitical agendas, mostly linked to arms manufacturers.

Now flip it on the other side. Well, I think the main culprit here is the United States and the pro-American Ukrainian elites. Why doesn’t the Ukrainian government, if they want to calm this all down, they could just do two things. One, say we withdraw our application to be in NATO. We don’t even want to be in NATO. All it does is make us a target. And number two, we’ll actually live up to the Minsk [Protocol] Agreement, which is a deal that was brokered by France and Germany where Ukraine and Russia agreed that these Eastern territories of Ukraine could have a certain amount of autonomy and the Ukrainian government would respect it.

So just live up to the Minsk Agreement, declare you don’t want to be part of NATO, because frankly, you’re never going to be anyway. So what’s the point of all this? No, but what happens if the Ukrainian government does that? Well, they’re not going to get hundreds of millions of dollars of military supplies sent to them. And we know the Ukrainian government, like many, but particularly, is corrupt as hell. And Ukrainian politicians are skimming lots of money out of all this military junk coming to them and money coming to them. So it’s very lucrative for them.

And of course, [Joe] Biden announces $200 million military equipment going to Ukraine. Well, what are they going to do with that 200 million? Who’s getting the money? American arms manufacturers. It’s like a pass-through. Give it to Ukraine, and Ukraine gives it to American companies. It’s such bullshit.

But I have to say, on the flip side, I think the Russian demand for Ukraine not to be a NATO is a reasonable one. It’s very provocative. And in fact, they were promised that by George Bush senior and by [Bill] Clinton. [Mikhail] Gorbachev promised that.

Francesco Mandolini

It dates back a few decades, probably, yeah.

Paul Jay

But on the other hand, what exactly is the danger of Ukraine being in NATO? What are they going to do? If they were in NATO, that means these countries would have to come to Ukraine’s aid. The Europeans don’t want to send troops, so they don’t really want Ukraine in NATO. They just don’t want to say that they can’t be. So it’s a pissing match.

Even if they put nuclear weapons, let’s say Ukraine, and honestly, they can put nuclear weapons in Ukraine without Ukraine joining NATO. The government just has to agree to it. So let’s say they put nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Does that threaten Russia any more than all the nuclear weapons that are already aimed at Russia? No. There are already nuclear weapons within five, six, seven minutes of Moscow.

So how does it change anything? Nuclear weapons in Ukraine? And most importantly, two things, all those missiles in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, the Russians know where they all are. They’re easy to target. What the hell is the point of all this? Where’s the real threat? It’s from American submarines, which Russia can’t do anything about. But hold on, Russia has submarines. They can target the United States, and the U.S. can’t do anything about it. So they are already in a mutually assured destruction position, and putting nuclear weapons in Ukraine doesn’t change anything. It’s just a bunch of bullshit. The whole thing on ICBMs is bullshit. It’s money-making.

The military-industrial complex in the United States, to a lesser degree, but significantly the military-industrial complex in Russia, you can throw China in too— but that’s not Ukraine’s story. They’re all making a killing out of almost war in Ukraine. I don’t see any reason why Russia would actually invade Ukraine, but it’s great psychological warfare, and I believe it’s like wrestling theatre. 

But here’s the rub. When Bret Hart, this is after he had gone to the WCW or the other wrestling Federation. [Bill] Goldberg goes to do a dropkick that’s supposed to miss, and Brett’s supposed to fall down; that was the theatre. But Goldberg didn’t miss. Goldberg hit Brett in the head and caused brain damage. As a result of that hit, Brett later had a stroke ending his wrestling career.

So as scripted and theatrical as wrestling is, shit happens. People really do get hurt. And the same thing in Ukraine, as theatrical and posturing, as pissing match as this is, shit happens, accidents happens, things get out of control. Some fire, some shooting starts on one side because some soldiers get excited, and shooting gets back, and it looks like something’s going to fire.

Both the United States and the U.S. have what Daniel Ellsberg— he’s not the only one. I’m working with Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers. I’m working on a documentary film with him based on his book The Doomsday Machine.

Both Russia and the United States have nuclear doomsday machines, and both can be triggered by serious on-the-ground conventional conflict. If it looks like one side or the other is actually drawn into conventional conflict, and it looks like they’re losing, the American war plan has always been, that triggers a first strike. So accidents happen. A conventional fight can break out.

In 1983, at a time of extremely high tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, [Ronald] Reagan was making all kinds of threats and language about it’s time for the fall of the Soviet Union, and we’re coming to get you. He was even caught off-mic making a threat. [Yuri] Andropov, the President of the Soviet Union, was sick and starting to really fear the U.S. was getting serious about a first strike. Well, right at that moment, a Soviet radar picked up a bunch of what looked to them like American missiles on their way. It was only because the guy in charge of the radar station didn’t know whether to believe it or not and knew Andropov was in a state of mind that he would simply fire at the United States in a preemptive strike. He didn’t tell Andropov what he saw on the radar.

Now, it turned out that the Russian scientists had planned for all kinds of things, including the radar hitting the moon and bouncing back. But in the algorithm they’d written to account for that, there’s one day of the year, which they didn’t realize, the way the radar bounced back off the moon would make it look like incoming missiles. So shit can happen. 

So the situation in Ukraine is extremely dangerous. And again, like in wrestling, as theatrical and posturing and a pissing match as it is, it can actually get dangerous.

Francesco Mandolini

Well, Paul, you didn’t joke when you said that. You know a lot about politics, more than you do about wrestling. That was a very enlightening discussion, thank you. Thank you so much.

Speaking of shit happening, well, in the end, towards the end of your documentary, Wrestling With Shadows, we see the infamous scene of Brett Hart asking you to leave the locker room. And then, allegedly, he punched Vince McMahon in the face. Is that something that you had a chance to see, or were you out of the locker room at that moment?

Paul Jay

Oh, no. We were told to leave, and we had to leave. We had extraordinary access because it was Brett. If it had been anybody else— what happened early on when we were first doing the film, and we were signing our contract with what was then the WWF. Brett was the star. He and Vince were tight, and there were no problems. And the contract we got was that we agreed with only one thing. I agree that I wouldn’t show behind-the-scenes theatre because I figured it’s like if I was doing a film about a magician, I couldn’t show the magic trick.

Francesco Mandolini

You wouldn’t want to reveal the tricks, yeah.

Paul Jay

But the deal was it was up to Brett what could go in or not. Only on that one issue, not on anything else. Brett had no creative control of the film other than what I could show of behind-the-scenes scripting and all that.

Well, by the time we got into the film, and things started to unfold, he started to have his falling out with Vince. So there was a point where he was planning a match, and I said, can we put a mic on you and film you from a distance? Your conversation planning the match? And he thought about it, and he said, you know what, fuck it, go ahead. It was getting to a point where he just didn’t care anymore. Plus, he knew that on this one issue, later on, he could ask me not to include it. So from that point on, he said, look, film whatever you want. I’ll wear a mic anytime you want me to, and later, we’ll figure out if there are any issues. And as I say, the more we got into the filming, the more antagonistic his relationship with Vince got.

So by the time we made the film, Brett didn’t ask us to take any out. We made zero changes. Brett didn’t ask for any, and we didn’t make any. So, for example, when he goes in for that conversation with Vince in the film where they plan the match, Vince doesn’t know that Brett’s mic’d.

Francesco Mandolini

That he has a wire.

Paul Jay

But because it’s Brett, we were able to have access to the dressing room. So at that key moment after the match in Montreal and we’re in the dressing room, I knew that if I turned the camera towards anyone but Brett, it might trigger them to say, hey, you got to get this camera crew out of here. So that’s why in the film, you don’t see anybody but Brett. You can hear Shawn [Michaels] saying, I wasn’t in on it, blah, blah, blah, and he’s lying through his teeth. But we were there, and then as Vince comes in, he knows that Vince is going to freak out if he sees the camera. So he tells us to leave.

I have no doubt that they had their words, and Brett punched him in the face, and he fell to the ground like a ton of bricks. And we heard from various people afterwards that’s what happened. And then you see the shot of Vince staggering down the hallway afterwards. And it’s kind of funny because I know a guy who worked very closely with Vince, and I said, did you see the film?

Now, Vince publicly claimed he’d never watched the film, which is all nonsense. Of course, he did. But this guy said, of course, Vince saw it. I said, what did he think? He said he was fine with all of that. He just didn’t like one scene, and that’s him staggering down the hallway because it made him look weak. He didn’t want people to see that he’d been punched. So, yeah, as far as I know, it was a real punch.

Francesco Mandolini

I’m curious, how did all the ideas come for filming this? Your documentary takes place for around a year, give or take. And how did the whole idea start? Because the Screwjob clearly wasn’t planned one year before. So what did trigger Brett to have the idea?

Paul Jay

Well, the Screwjob was the gods of documentary filmmaking, giving me an ending to the film. No, that was totally a last-minute thing. I’m a dual citizen, U.S.-Canadian, but I grew up mostly in Canada, and my filmmaking was mostly based in Canada. So you’re always looking for a Canadian big name. And Brett was, at the time, maybe the best known Canadian in the world. And then I saw him on television, and he was doing this Moody interview from the banks of the Rhine River in Germany and talking about retiring and this and that. And there was some truth to it; he really was talking about taking a break for a while. And it’s during that time his contract is up, and he gets this offer from WCW [World Championship Wrestling], and he’s debating what to do. He just looked like an interesting character.

That Moody interview with him was half theatrical but half-real. And he just looked like he’d be a compelling character. Then I looked into his family, his father. This guy has twelve kids, six boys and six girls. Every boy went into wrestling. Every girl married a wrestler. And Stu [Stewart Edward] Hart, the father, would train these people in the basement and torture them with wrestling moves. The whole thing was a crazy story and a good one. 

So that with the wrestling feeder— what intrigued me and made me want to do the film was actually an article by this French philosopher, Roland Barth, who wrote a book called, I can’t remember now [Mythologies], but it’s about symbols. And one of the articles or essays in the book, I think it was in 1955-1956, it’s about professional wrestling in Paris. And there’s this wonderful quote about wrestling being light without shadows, emotion without reserve, and about how wrestling characters play these iconic characters. Like in Greek mythology, somebody plays courage, somebody plays coward, somebody plays the betrayer, and so on. And the fact that the audience would buy into this theatre and get so engaged and be so willing to suspend disbelief, and for a lot of the audience knowing that this was theatrical fighting, but still, it was so well done and so artful.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, because it tickles your gut feelings.

Paul Jay

Anyways, all that intrigued me and I sold the film, and BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] came into it, Arte in Europe came into it, A&E in the U.S. and Canada. And then the fight with Vince McMahon broke out when we were almost near the end of the film.

Francesco Mandolini

So basically, you approached Brett Hart. It wasn’t the other way around.

Paul Jay

I went to visit him in Calgary. I was out, actually, at the Banff Television Festival, which I used to go to, which is near Calgary. Yeah, I went, knocked on his door and asked him if he wanted to do it, and eventually, he said, yeah.

Francesco Mandolini

How was working with him? Because since you’re not a wrestling fan, I assume you had a different relationship. Weren’t you starstruck? Possibly, I don’t know.

Paul Jay

No, I wasn’t starstruck. I’ve worked with lots of big names in various ways. I liked him. In some ways, one of the things that I liked the most about him is that he really respected, like loved the audience. I saw a lot of other wrestlers behind the scenes, and they actually had mostly contempt for the audience. I think the— do you know the Groucho Marx joke about I’d never joined a club that would have me as a member?

Francesco Mandolini

Yes, I do.

Paul Jay

It’s kind of like that. If you believe all this bullshit about wrestling, I’m not going to treat you with much respect. And some of them are the bigger stars. They wouldn’t even give autographs. I don’t know, Brett, I don’t think I ever saw Brett turn down a request for an autograph, even if it held him up late after a long show. No doubt he loved the love. He loved the attention, but so do the other guys. They love the attention, but they didn’t treat people well. Brett was a thoughtful guy. As you can see from the film, he takes his character seriously. When Brett wants to turn him into a heel in Montreal near the end and have him lose, he didn’t want to disappoint his fans. It was this character of the hitman being a good guy; it really did mean something to him.

Now, Vince had turned him into a kind of a heel in the United States and a hero in Canada because he had all this anti-American stuff. But that was okay with Brett. I mean, that’s mostly how Canadians feel anyway. Part of the Canadian identity is not liking U.S. control of Canada and the Canadian health care system, and so on. And those scenes in the film are some of my favourite; Brett’s in Alberta, which is the most conservative province in our country, bragging about Canadian health care and all that.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, that’s a great scene.

Paul Jay

Honestly, he was great to work with. There was no arrogance. He wasn’t a prima donna. He was very cooperative. So he was one of the people I’ve done films with that was best to work with.

Francesco Mandolini

And as you said before, you were able to catch a moment in time where everybody got to peek through the curtain and see what was really happening in wrestling. Nowadays, people often forget that Vince McMahon was known as a commentator. Back then, he wasn’t necessarily known as the owner of WWF and all of this kind of stuff.

And now we see someone like Triple H [Hunter Hearst Hemsley], who eventually ended up marrying Vince’s daughter and so on and so forth. And at the time, he wasn’t even one of the most prominent wrestlers. But we see—

Paul Jay

Who? Triple H?

Francesco Mandolini

Hunter Hearst Hemsley.

Paul Jay

Yeah, no, he’d become fairly prominent because he was part of that—

Francesco Mandolini

DX [D-Generation X].

Paul Jay

Thing with Shane.

Francesco Mandolini

But behind the scenes, he was already politicking his way up, and it seemed that at least the people behind the scenes knew about it. For example, Julie Hart seemed to know about this. Do you recall anything else than what we’ve seen in the movie, from someone like Triple H or Shawn Michaels, or if they acted weird or in a suspicious way, or something like that?

Paul Jay

Well, people who follow wrestling know that Shawn Michaels and Hunter all have admitted to what really went on, that essentially they conspired with Vince to have an ending that wasn’t scripted and make Brett lose. They justified it because it was good for business. It’s like the Mafia, Tony Soprano. It’s not personal. It’s good for business.

Francesco Mandolini

Yes, it is good for business.

Paul Jay

But at the time, I don’t think Hunter was so on the inside as he became later. One of the things is the extent to which when the film came out and people who don’t know about it, it was a big deal when the film came out. It was seen all over the world. Certainly, anyone interested in wrestling probably watched the film back then.

And as you say, Vince, his role wasn’t really so known. He came out of the film for most people, not all, but most, he was the corporate bad guy. Well, Vince is brilliant. He adopted that as a character. He became the corporate bad guy who could come into the ring preening and dancing around and playing the character. Okay, you think I’m the corporate bad guy? Great. I’ll be the corporate bad guy. And it was a storyline for ages. Vince the corporate bad guy. He and his writers really are great storytellers. I despise their politics, but they’re very talented at what they do. So the film changed wrestling quite a bit, both in terms of exposing what it really was but also how the storylines evolved.

Francesco Mandolini

Did you have the chance to talk with Vince at all, where you were seen behind-the-scenes and stuff like that?

Paul Jay

A little bit, not a lot. I mean, he was certainly aware of the film. We filmed him several times. We had scheduled a sit-down long interview with him, and we were just trying to arrange the time, and then the shit broke out in Montreal. I don’t know if you know the story afterwards? He tried to stop the release of the film.

Francesco Mandolini

Okay. No, I didn’t know that.

Paul Jay

Oh, yeah. That was a big story. That was a front-page story in Hollywood Reporter, which is like one of the main trade newspapers in Hollywood. Yeah, I guess I can tell that story quickly.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, go ahead.

Paul Jay

So the deal we had with Vince was that when the film was finished, he would give us releases for all the individuals in the film that worked for the Wrestling Federation. They would all sign releases allowing us to have them in the film. He would hand over any stock footage we wanted from the video library, and it would all be copyright-cleared for us. Well, that was very clear in the contract, very hard and clear. So we finished the film, and we’re editing, and we contact the WWF, and we say we need those privacy releases, we need access to the footage, and they wouldn’t answer. And we’d ask over and over and over, and they wouldn’t answer.

And it got to a point where clearly they were going to violate the contract and not give us what we wanted, which would have killed the film because we’re dealing with major broadcasters, and you have to have what’s called E&O insurance, errors and omissions insurance. And to meet the requirements of the insurance policy, you need all these releases. And if you don’t have the releases, the insurers won’t insure, and the broadcasters won’t pay you. So we get down near the wire. So that’s going on right around the same time we get a call from the WCW. Who is the guy that ran the WCW?

Francesco Mandolini

Eric Bischoff at the time.

Paul Jay

Yeah, Eric Bischoff. I’m not sure if he called himself or maybe it was one of his lawyers, and they want to buy the rights to the film for a pay-per-view. And they guarantee us $500,000, and they told us, in all likelihood, our end of the pay-per-view would be at least a million dollars. Now for a documentary, that’s unheard of. We contacted our broadcasters, who kind of had to agree because this would have gone before the public broadcast, and they were okay with it because the pay-per-view doesn’t really interfere with A&E’s and whatever.

But we needed the errors and omissions insurance. We needed the releases. And so I said to Turner, yeah, we’d love to do the pay-per-view. I’ll try once more for the releases. And they said to me, well, if they don’t give you the releases, we’ll help you sue them. So I sent a fax to Vince and his lawyers. This is like on a Wednesday. I said, if we don’t hear from you Friday at noon giving us the releases, we’re going to have to proceed with legal action because you’re in violation of the contract.

And the Turner [Broadcasting System, Inc. (TBS)] lawyers— Turner owned WCW. The Turner lawyers had told us we had a slam dunk case. That was their language, which lawyers don’t usually like to use, but it was very clear in the contract they owed us this stuff.

So I said, Friday at noon or we’re going to start litigations, we’ll get an injunction or something to make you give us the footage. So at noon, we get a fax, like five minutes to noon. We get a fax from WWF, they said, you can have your releases, and you can have your footage, but on one condition, you cannot do business in any way with this film, with the Turner organization in any shape or form. You can’t do anything with the WCW, and you can’t do anything with anything to do with Turner, which would have been connected to Warner Brothers as well. At that point, Warner Brothers had made us an offer for the DVD release. Well, clearly, Vince had a spy in Bischoff’s camp because everything we’d been talking about with WCW was supposed to be secret, and they obviously knew about it.

So we get this fax, and I have to go back to Turner, and I say, here’s the deal. I said, what comes next? And Turner says to me, we will finance you suing them up to a cap of $750,000. Now, this is back in 1998. So what is that, like a mil and a half or something now? I don’t know.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, probably with inflation.

Paul Jay

So that’s a lot of lawyers’ legal fees. I said, great, okay, let’s do it. Can we get an injunction to make them hand the stuff over? And there’s a long silence, and they said, well, we can try, but usually in the United States, it’s very hard to get an injunction to make somebody do something. You can get an injunction to stop them from doing something damaging, but to make them do something to avoid damages is very difficult. In all likelihood, you have to sue them for not allowing you to deliver to your broadcasters, which means the A&E deal, the BBC deal, all of that would go down the toilet. We would probably have to refund the initial money we were paid by those people. The pay-per-view would go down the toilet, at least for quite some time, forever, really.

In all likelihood, according to the Turner lawyers, all you’d ever get is money. You’d never get the releases, you’d never get the video footage, but they’d have to pay you damages, which could amount to millions of dollars. So I had a decision to make. Do we want to release this, finish this film, which looked like it was going to be one of the great films or take a few years and hopefully win the legal case and make a lot of money? And in the end, I said, the hell with it. I’m a filmmaker. This is too good a film to bury.

And I said, okay, the hell with you. So we said no to the pay-per-view. We said no to Turner. We made the deal with Vince. We got all the stuff, and they lived up to it at that point. They gave us the releases and footage because they only really cared about the war with Turner. That’s what really mattered to them. The fact that the film exposed wrestling and made Vince look bad coming down a hallway, that was all secondary to them. The fact that they killed the pay-per-view, that was for them, the big win.

Francesco Mandolini

Paul, one last question before I let you go. In your memory, do you remember that someone on that night in Montreal, that someone went to your team or to Brett and said, I’m sorry this happened, this is really fucked up?

Paul Jay

You mean afterwards?

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, afterwards.

Paul Jay

I don’t think I actually witnessed it, but I heard that the oh, god, what was his name? The guy that walked around, great big, tall guy that looks like he’s a zombie or something.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, the Undertaker [Mark William Calaway].

Paul Jay

The Undertaker. I heard the guy that plays Undertaker did say that to Brett. I know a lot of the guys were extremely disturbed about it at the time. Not so much necessarily because of what happened to Brett, but because it was that to violate a script can be really dangerous.

In many of these situations, you’re kind of putting your life on the line. So once it’s agreed on what should be done, you don’t change the script because somebody can get hurt. So a lot of the wrestlers were very disturbed that an agreed outcome was changed. I heard that from various people indirectly. Later, I think a lot of the guys, I mean, they made their money out of that Wrestling Federation.

A lot of them bought Vince’s argument. “I can’t have my guy go to the other Federation still wearing my belt,” even though Vince had offered to give up the belt. But Vince— and this is one of the more important parts of the film. Brett’s on camera saying Vince treats his wrestlers like circus animals. And especially back then, the wrestlers did not get paid very well except for like a Hulk Hogan or a Brett, but everyone else, pretty bad.

A lot of them got hurt. Many of them were on steroids and wound up with brain injuries. The suicide rate is ridiculous amongst retired wrestlers. Even a number of people that are in the film are dead in one way or another because of their role—starting with Brett’s brother, who unfortunately was killed because of the negligence of the Wrestling Federation. In fact, they had to pay Owen Hart’s wife well. It was $13 million out of a civil litigation suit.

So that was kind of the other important metaphor out of wrestling. It’s like the way workers are treated, especially unionized workers. They’re treated like animals, and that’s how those wrestlers were treated.

Francesco Mandolini

Yeah, I see that, and all those years after, are you still in touch with Brett?

Paul Jay

Yeah, I would say at least once a year, or so we talk. Or if, you know, when I was living in Baltimore for a while, if he was in that area, he’d call, and we’d catch up or in Toronto. I haven’t seen him now, maybe for a couple of years, but his daughter called me the other day about something, and we’re friends. We’re still in touch in some ways.

Francesco Mandolini

Did you have the chance to talk with him? I don’t know if you know about that, but a few years back, he came back to WWE to make peace with Shawn Michaels, or at least that’s what they’ve shown on TV. Do you know how their relationship is right now?

Paul Jay

Yeah, I remember when he made up with Vince, that was sort of a big deal. I think he actually talked to me about it. About what I thought when Vince was asking him to come back and make a few appearances, and we talked about it. Why not? In the end, it was about a piece of theatre. And yeah, he was betrayed by Vince, but it’s not like he got killed or something. He went to the WCW, and he made a lot of money. I didn’t see any big reason for him not to, and he kind of felt like he wanted; one he could use the money. Vince was going to pay him decent money to come back, and in the end, it was business. So he certainly didn’t feel that way at the time. Brett was really betrayed.

And as the film shows, to a large extent, Vince had become a new father figure for Brett in a very real way. So when Vince betrayed him, it was like his second father betrayed him. But after a few years, he got over the hurt of that. And as far as Shawn goes, Shawn became the born-again Christian and admitted to all of it, lying about it all. So, yeah, I think it’s fairly genuine that he sort of made up with Shawn.

Francesco Mandolini

Thank you so much for this chat. It has been truly interesting to hear from you. And if you want to plug where people can find you, feel free to do it.

Paul Jay

Yeah, go to theAnalysis.news, and in fact, the film is in the documentary section. So if you want to see Wrestling with Shadows, go to the documentary section of theAnalysis.news, and you can watch the film.

And if you want to know more about Ukraine and all the other kinds of stuff we cover, you’ll see there are lots of interviews and stories about what’s going on in the world, and they’re all in the same spirit. We try to pierce the theatrical bullshit of how news is covered by mainstream media and get to the real core of what’s happening.

Francesco Mandolini

Yes, thank you so much, Paul. Have a nice day there.

Paul Jay

All right, thanks for the invitation.

Francesco Mandolini

Bye, ciao.

END

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3 Comments

  1. On Ukraine Russia NATO conflict Paul fails to mention the US goal to kill Nordstream 2 and prevent Europe , especially Germany, from developing closer economic ties to Russia and US lose influence. If US and NATO can provoke Russia into invading Ukraine then NS2 is dead and Europe remains firmly a part of US hegemony. Surprised Paul would overlook this. Jerry

  2. Don’t have much to contribute on wrestling, but…I am becoming more persuaded as this chain of idiocies becomes more and more protracted that the Biden administration , defense-related and media elites are now determined, despite the clear presence of ominous risks, to force the Russians into nothing less than a humiliating stand-down from their positions on the Russian and Belorussian sides of the Ukrainian border. I think the Russians felt they were operating from a relatively strong position when they chose the opportunity last fall to achieve to the greatest extent possible Putin’s putative legacy accomplishment to get NATO to offer suitably explicit (written or unwritten, despite the Baker/Bush promise experience thirty years ago) promises never to admit Ukraine or any other country in the Russian sphere of influence, sensing the pathetic Biden’s likely annihilation in the midterms would only be redoubled if an energy-price led economic downturn and turmoil in Europe from gas shortages resulted from the US contesting Russian demands too vigorously (and shamelessly), especially with war polling poorly among the electorate.
    But the US and its NATO dependents (for the most part: Germany is especially a kind of wild card, for obvious reasons, with Nordstream and all) seemed to have turned the tables on Russia, and, with the constant, unthinking, automatic rejection of Russian moves to deescalate, and utterly unsupported assertions of duplicitous maneuvers to attack, which are parroted by the media in ways I believe make their performance in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iran and Yemen look positively respectable, it is possible that the US is committing itself fully to an unconditional surrender demand on the Russians. They are thus gambling that despite their emphatic portrayal of Putin and the Russian oligarchy and military complex as nothing but sociopathic fiends, that the Russians will ultimately prove to be the rational and responsible players and recognize that the only way out is a withdrawal that involves loss of face and denial of a legacy demand that would allow Putin to retire eventually (and maybe some in the administration believe a failure of this sort would unleash immediate regime change in Russia itself!). That the US and much of NATO can be willing to expose the world to the unprecedented dangers that involve the uncertainties, likely errors of judgement and lack of political responsibility pregnant the present conjuncture is truly incredible: for, after all, it is not likely to achieve any political goals that administration may still have, like winning the midterms, or, god forbid, being dislodged from complete capitulation on a domestic agenda that has failed anyway. It seems clearly to confirm the idea that the only functioning levers of government are fully and firmly grasped exclusively by big donors and political functionaries, particularly associated with the defense industry. I guess the only sense one can reluctantly glean from any of this consists of some sort of equally depressing message being extended to China.

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