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(Review) Andre the Giant Documentary: A Man Looking to Belong

Andre the Giant wasn't just a famous wrestler, he was a nearly-mythical figure.  Andre made millions around the world smile, both in the ring and in The Princess Bride, but he had a hard life.  The stories about him may be vulnerable to exaggeration, but they're fascinating and moving, and they're discussed in the new HBO Sports documentary about him.  Produced by Bill Simmons, in conjunction with the WWE, Andre the Giant generally does right by the man.

Andre the Giant April 11 2018A man looking to belong.  (pic via torontosun.com)

Observations:  (Spoilers ahead.)

  • It's a treat to see the old footage of a younger and more agile Andre in action.  The WWE video archives are put to good use, as we see Andre wrestling in a variety of territories, including the AWA, Mid South Wrestling, Florida Championship Wrestling, and World Class Championship wrestling, among others.  He moved remarkably well for a guy that size.

 

  • The old days of wrestling territories seemed to be a perfect fit for Andre, since it made it easier for him to move around without running the risk of getting stale. 

 

  • On the other hand, that travel schedule must have been particularly demanding for him at his size.  Andre saw the world, wrestling on six continents over the course of his career, and while the cheers seem addictive (as they do to just about all wrestlers), it was clearly physically and emotionally painful to be reminded every day that he was "different" and didn't fit in this world.

 

  • Why is Shane McMahon talking about Andre's history?  He would have been a kid/not even born yet when most of these stories took place, and Vince McMahon also appears, so why not let dad do the talking?  Shane's the only wrestling personality featured who wasn't a peer of Andre's.  He must have needed something to do.

 

  • Speaking of Vince McMahon, he gets a chance to praise his dad, saying the other wrestling promoters appreciated how cooperative he was with sharing Andre.  Ironic, since the younger McMahon ended up putting those guys out of business.  The perks of being the one to write history.

 

  • The documentary makes clear how important trust and cooperation are between two wrestlers in a match.  It's discussed that Andre would let other performers look good for a few minutes, but then he was going to win at the end, and really, who was going to argue with him?  We hear (as others have discussed in the past) about Andre not being cooperative with wrestlers whom he disliked.  That's a little unprofessional, but he really was "the Boss."  (Wonder what Randy Savage did to make him so mad?)

 

  • Up until this program, I had never once thought about Andre as a ladies man.

 

  • Andre the Giant drinking stories always seem like they could be fantasy stories, but to be that big and in that much pain?  They make sense.  20-25 beers, 4 bottles of wine, and some mixed drinks sounds reasonable in this world.

 

  • It's amazing that Tim White survived his time as Andre's traveling buddy, given the wrestler's lifestyle. 

 

  • That North Carolina ranch looks beautiful. 

 

  • Andre's daughter seems to have come to terms with him not being around while she was growing up.  Anytime there's discussion of a wrestler's family life, you know it won't go well.

 

  • Didn't realize that Andre refused medical treatment that might have controlled his growth issues, because he didn't want it to interfere with his career.  Did anyone try to change his mind?    One can imagine the addiction to the crowd cheers, when the rest of life can be so alienating.

 

  • The segment on Hulk Hogan becoming a star feels a little long and self-serving to both Hogan and the WWE, but again, the winners get to write history.

 

  • Andre tells Vince McMahon that he's about ready to die, and McMahon's response is that he should be in the main event of Wrestlemania III.  Sounds like a perfect summary of the professional wrestling industry in one sentence.

 

  • Vince McMahon saying preparing for Wrestlemania III gave Andre a new lease on life, feels like the least believable comment in the whole documentary.

 

  • It's sad to see Jesse Ventura, Andre, Bobby Heenan, Roddy Piper, and Hulk Hogan in the "Piper's Pit" clip setting up the Wrestlemania III match, and have only Ventura and Hogan still be alive.

 

  • Never sure what to believe when Hulk Hogan speaks, but whether the story is true or not, Hogan talking about Andre not being forthcoming about how the main event would play out right up until the end, again hammers home the importance of trust and cooperation in the ring.

 

  • Had never thought about how hard it was for Andre to be a "bad guy" at the end of his career until this program.  The man spends his whole life being gawked at in the outside world, finds some escape in cheering crowds for almost 20 years, and then those same crowds also boo him.

 

  • My heart goes out to Tim White, who the only person in this program who comes across as a true friend of Andre's.

Andre the Giant does a terrific job of telling the story of AndrĂ© RenĂ© Roussimoff.  It's a moving look at a unique life, and while there may be a whiff of the usual spin that comes with any pro wrestling story, the show stays fairly grounded in reality.  Wrestling fans will enjoy all of the classic footage, as well as the chance to hear about another side of this legendary figure.  Highly recommended.

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