June 26, 2007

On Chris Benoit

Anyone who's read the official bio that my agents circulate about me around town knows that one of my prized collection pieces is a commemorative folding chair I got to keep as a souvenir from Wrestlemania XIV, held at Safeco Field in Seattle back in March of 2003.

"Prized" because, ever since I gawked with my kindergarten buddy Tito at the sight of Pedro Morales going into fake convulsions after being tossed over the top rope and onto the concrete floor by Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, I've been a fan of professional wrestling.

I suppose, being a short, nerdy kid with a hyperactive imagination and not much natural athletic ability, wrestling was right up there with comic books as sort of inevitable.

But it was something that never really went away. My mom would tell stories about growing up watching Slave Girl Moolah cheat her way to victory over poor Daisy Mae when the female wrestling circuit found it's way into her small town of Cambridge, MD. Some of my fondest memories of my late maternal grandfather involve sitting next to him one row back from his favorite seat in the upper deck of the Baltimore Civic Center to watch Hulk Hogan narrowly escape defeat at the hands of Killer Khan. Or going with the son of some of my parent's Amway associates (long story) to the 2nd row of the 5th Regiment Armory to see the Road Warriors bulldoze The Four Horseman. I'd even gone so far as to design my own wrestling role-playing game my freshman year in high school using paper character markers, sheets of graph paper marked off like an arena, and a bunch of 10 and 20-sided dice I'd swiped from my "Dungeons & Dragons" set - oddly enough, it was such a big hit among my classmates at my all-boys private school, that the study hall proctor threatened to shut it down because he thought I'd set up some sort of adolescent gambling ring.

I WISH I'd been that devious. :-)

And, by the time I was an adult, that just meant I now had the cash and freedom to indulge in as many pay-per-views and live events as my heart desired.

I'd pulled back the last few years, largely because there were only a handful of characters that I still enjoyed watching. The Rock had left to make movies. Steve Austin had injured himself and pissed off enough people in the business that he'd clearly worn out his welcome. Hulk Hogan was past his prime 15 years ago. Ric Flair is a shadow of his former, glorious self.

And then, there were the deaths.

And I'm not talking about the old timers who gracefully exit this mortal coil after a long and illustrious life like Classy Freddie Blassie or "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd or Gorilla Monsoon or Stu Hart.

It's the early deaths of apparently healthy people who are clearly being eaten away on the inside.

Brian Pillman. Crash Holly. Louie Spicoli. Miss Elizabeth. Mr. Perfect. Eddie Guerrero. Ravishing Rick Rude. The Big Boss Man. Terry "Bam Bam" Gordy. Owen Hart. Davey Boy Smith.

And that's just in the last 10 years.

Let's not even get into "Hot Stuff" Eddie Gilbert or Adrian Adonis or Dino Bravo from way back in the day.

Hell, in just the last year we'd lost both Bam Bam Bigelow and Sensational Sherry, and poor Kurt Angle just looks and acts like he has a freakin' death wish.

It wasn't as fun as it used to be, and the specter of the grim reaper seemed to loom larger every year.

But this Chris Benoit thing.....

So, let's back it up for a minute.

Chris Benoit was an extremely intense in-ring performer. Former champ & announcer Larry Zbyszko once said "Benoit hits guys like they owe him money". He was also one of the most technically proficient and gifted and dedicated performers ever. Dude had to have his neck surgically reinforced a few years ago after a spinal injury, and he continued to finish matches with a flying head butt off the top rope.

Back in 1996, I had a bit of a family outing to WCW's Great American Bash at the renamed Baltimore Arena - the usual suspects of me and Grandaddy, but, this time, my younger cousin, my mom, and my 10 year old nephew also came along. And one of the highlights of the night was one of the very earliest true "Falls Count Anywhere" matches put on by a major promoter on a pay-per-view. As the name implies, the two wrestlers can battle it out wherever they want - there's no countout, and the referee has to follow them wherever they go. So if, say, one guy wants to pin the other guy on the announcer's table instead of inside the ring, that would count towards winning the match.

This particular night, "Falls Count Anywhere" pit Benoit, nicknamed "The Crippler" after he dropped the Tazmaniac on his head and put him out for nearly a year with a broken neck, against old school crazy guy Kevin Sullivan. The storyline was that Benoit's valet, a hot little sumthin' who called herself, simply, "Woman", was Kevin Sullivan's wife and that she'd started shagging Benoit on the side, so this match was about payback.

The scary thing was that it wasn't just a storyline. In real life, "Woman" was named Nancy Daus and she really was Kevin Sullivan's wife, and she really HAD started shagging Benoit on the side! And Sullivan was, what they call in the wrestling business, a "booker", which is essentially a writer for storylines and match outcomes. So, it looked as if Sullivan had booked himself in an especially dangerous match with the guy who'd been creeping with his wife behind his back.

And the match did not disappoint - Sullivan came out to the ring first and then met Benoit with a fist in the middle of the main entrance. They stood there swinging on each other for, like, a minute, before tumbling over the guardrail and into the crowd, where they continued to fight their way all the way up the arena steps, PAST our section in the lower mezzanine, THROUGH the doorway to the concession stands, and INTO the men's room. A camera crew followed them the whole way and never bothered to clear the bathroom before hand. There were guys literally hanging root at the urinals as these two duked it out.

My nephew begged my mother to let him follow them into the bathroom. I'm sure you can guess her response.

Announcer quote of the night - "Head first into the commode!"

Benoit was a fan favorite and a bigger star at this time than Sullivan. And, let's face it, just like in the movies, audiences always cheer for the girl to go with the younger, better looking guy over her creepy husband. So Sullivan booked the match for Benoit to win and for one of Benoit's buddies to join him in kicking Sullivan's ass some more at the end of the match.

Talk about externalizing your emotional pain.

Kevin Sullivan kind of faded into quasi-retirement after that. "Woman" also eventually stopped as an in-ring performer and married Chris Benoit a few years later. When Benoit, after nearly two decades in the business, won the world championship in the main event of Wrestlemania XX at Madison Square Garden, Nancy joined him in his post-ring celebration with their young son Daniel and Chris's children from a previous relationship. In the video, you can see him kiss his son and hold him in the air with his newly won championship belt hung over his shoulder.

That was his family, back in 2004.

This weekend, after sending a text message to one of his co-workers about a "family emergency", Chris Benoit roped up Nancy's feet & hands before strangling her. A day later, he smothered 7-year-old Daniel with a plastic bag in his bed. And then, a day after that, he laid a Bible next to each of their bodies, went into his weight room downstairs, and hung himself with the cable from an exercise machine.

There are lots of untimely, unnatural wrestling deaths. Given the amount of stress they put on their bodies and spirits, even suicide is not entirely unthinkable, although, sitting here, right now, I can't really recall any instances of wrestlers intentionally taking their own lives.

But murder?

I mean, we can be mad at Lex Luger for inadvertently causing Miss Elizabeth's death because they were screwing around with too many prescription drugs. But Luger was stupid and reckless. That was an accident.

This is murder.

And, even though, I suspect, it will probably fall under the category of "crime of passion" - there is an element of pre-meditation here that, if it had ever gone to court, probably would have earned Benoit the death penalty anyway.

Who knows what might have set him off to kill Nancy in the first place (although, knowing the history, I'm sure a picture is now forming in all of your minds) - but, doing what he did, in his addled frame of mind, knowing what might be waiting for him in the judicial system, Benoit may have thought he was mercy-killing a soon-to-be-orphaned Daniel.

Who knows?

But (and I'm really reluctant to say this, but, what the Hell), everything has an energy that is intrinsic to itself, no matter how it evolves. And when you start wrong, it's real hard to end right.

Chris Benoit - may God have mercy on your soul, and the souls of your victims.

June 13, 2007

"the space in between...."

Like with so many things that are artistic in nature, a single moment can carry my mind in a million directions, but they're all fruit from the same tree.

This is a record of such a moment in my mind. It probably won't flow. The thoughts come as they please. But, in the end, they're all connected.

So, a few weeks ago, I was at a club here in L.A., and I met someone.

She was a vision.

We didn't talk much at all.

Which is unfortunate, because, if we had, I would have asked her, "did you feel that?"

Because when I wrapped my arms around her on the dance floor, and she put her hands on my side, a spark jumped.

Not one of those static electricity "I just dragged my feet across a wool rug and shocked the shit out of my fingers on a metal doorknob" sparks.

It's one of those kind of sparks like when, back in college, I ran into an ex-girlfriend in a computer lab, and I just put my hand on her shoulder.... and every inch of skin on my body remembered an entire relationship in an instant.

Those slender hands from my dance partner were like a pair of jumper cables giving a little "God is here" boost to my stalled out soul.

Now, don't get me wrong - it's not like I was unhappy with my life just before this whispered moment of divine shock therapy. Quite the contrary. My movie just got accepted into an international festival. My brother finally came home from Iraq with all of his fingers & toes and in his right mind. Business is picking up. My writing is accelerating. It's nearly summer.

My life is filled with joy.

No, the spark between myself and my dancefloor companion was literally just a way for the Divine to speak to me directly and say "all of that energy that your gathering through your good mood is supposed to go right here - in the space between."

And that is what has had my mind and soul trembling with excitement ever since.

"the space between".

In those old movies from the '30's, where the mad scientist is about to resurrect the monster, you always see the two round electrodes, full of energetic potential - but it's when they're brought together, that the lightning arcs and brings life to the monster.


The distance between two things is where creation happens.

I'm a filmmaker.

People like me are all supposed to know about Sergei Eisenstein: an early Russian film scholar who is the father of modern day editing & film montage. In one of his more famous experiments, Eisenstein filmed a shot of a renowned actor looking down, then cut it next to a shot of a baby, then a shot of the actor looking down again, then a shot of a plate of food, then a shot of the actor again, then, finally, a shot of a dead animal. When he showed this little film, people heaped tremendous praise on the actor - "he's so amazing! With just the slightest look, he can convey love for a child, hunger for a meal, or even disgust over a corpse!"

Of course, it was all the exact same shot of the actor's face in all three instances, and Eisenstein's specific direction to the actor was to be expressionless.

In each case, by placing these two separate images next to each other, a brand new, THIRD thing was created.

The space gave birth to a feeling.

Which is why Leon Tolstoy said that the first thing you, as an artist, must master before anything else if you intend to write the great novel (or, for that matter, poem or speech or screenplay), before theme or plot or character, is transitions.

It's why the editor Walter Murch always takes a still image from every shot of the movie he's cutting, and lines them all up on a wall in the order he receives them, regardless of story order - by laying unrelated images next to each other, he finds inspiration to cut in ways he would never have seen otherwise.

It's why any musician worth his or her salt will tell you that the action happens in the space between the beats.


Scientists say that, what we thought was just trillions upon trillions of square light years of emptiness between the stars and planets is actually filled with.... something. It doesn't reflect light or give off radiation, so it can't be detected directly. But because heavenly bodies move in a certain way as a result of gravitational forces where there aren't other heavenly bodies to exert said gravitational forces, they know that something else MUST be out there, filling the space.

There are some who interpret quantum physics theories that all solid matter is really just energy vibrating at specific contradictory frequencies that prevent, for instance, my fingertips from passing through this keyboard like a phantom, as proof that the entire universe is really just one single presence, folding into relationship with itself to create all that is.

As they say "nature abhors a vacuum". Which is why the universe is always looking to fill in the spaces with new things.

An empty canvas. A blank page.

Creation only occurs in contrast.

Now, don't get it twisted - "contrast" does not always mean "conflict", because "harmony" is about the space created between two complementary frequencies.

But space requires boundaries. We have to make room to define the space.

The fence of a playground.

The rules of a game.

Three act structure.

Iambic Pentameter.

A dancefloor.

Two pairs of lips.

I have a friend up in Santa Barbara who's, for lack of a better term, a medium. She used to have a giant open space in the wall above her living room, and she refused to decorate it or populate it with artwork or anything of that nature. She wanted to physically manifest space in her life to make room for new spiritual things to arrive, like prosperity, or new revelations.

I'm told that the term "feng shui" literally means "wind-water" and, according to Wikepedia, it's cultural shorthand for a verse in the "Book of Burial" that reads:

"The qi that rides the wind stops at the boundary of water."

Ultimately, I don't have a specific point I'm trying to make here or a big summation to wrap it all up. Not everything gets tied up with a neat bow. I'm just exploring.

But, as long time readers of my blog know - if it's important to be MORE (spiritually, transcendentally), then you've got to give it room.

"The Art of Allowing" says that, sometimes, we spend so much time praying for the things that we want, we never give the universe the time to actually deliver. It's like being in a restaurant, and constantly placing orders without letting the staff actually cook and bring your food.

I'm not entirely sure what Space really means. I'm just sure that it's presence matters.

And as for me, the space between me and her reminded me that I am a Creator, not just of words like these, or films, or pieces of art.

First and foremost, I am here to create my life.

Next time, I'll just ask her.