WWE DVD releases are always interesting to review. Their production crew is one of the best on the planet and each one of these discs manages to present an intimate, often entertaining snapshot of a career. The fact those snapshots are often carefully constructed versions of history makes them interesting for very different reasons. Stalinist history-making is alive and well and churning out 12-15 discs a year from deep in the wilds of Connecticut.
Every now and then though, you get a disc that plays differently. The CM Punk set, ‘Best in the World’ from a couple of years ago is a great example. It was, at the very least marketed, as being a documentary that was more under the control of the performer than the production office. It’s certainly one of the most brutally honest, and often very funny, discs the WWE has put out. It’s possible some of it may not be authentic but it’s all presented as though it was. The magician stands on stage and pulls a rabbit out of a transparent hat. It’s ambiguously honest and honestly ambiguous. That’s exactly where Paul Heyman has spent his entire career.
The first disc in the set is a full length documentary that follows Heyman from his years as a professional wrestling photographer through to the present day. Like ‘Best in the World’ a sizable chunk of it is the subject talking to camera and, like that set, it’s a smart choice. Heyman’s passionate full-speed intellect is on display throughout and the disc’s strongest point is how it tracks the way he’s changed. The wide-eyed boy photographer transitions to the screaming Hell Yuppie of the Paul E. Dangerously years and from there to the mad scientist who built Extreme Championship Wrestling. That’s the thing Heyman is known for and also the first point where the disc feels produced. The hand of Connecticut Stalin doesn’t close but it does twitch and what we get feels like the edited highlights. That’s understandable, given the storied history of ECW and the genuinely brilliant documentaries produced about it, but it also strikes a bum note. The Mass Transit and Crucifixion incidents are defining moments in Heyman’s career and to have them glossed over here feels disingenuous.
Interestingly, Heyman’s fractious first run with the WWE is dealt with far more openly. He, Stephanie McMahon and others all talk about how Heyman’s dedication to making Smackdown the A show was what ultimately led to him being fired. He was, even after the near total burnout at the end of ECW, still so driven that he didn’t know when to quit. It’s an interesting, honest admission that marks a very clear change in Heyman now as opposed to Heyman then. He knows that he does this, and can now watch for it and work around it. The mad scientist has learnt to be a politician. Paul E.Dangerously has finally taken a call instead of making them.
But again, Connecticut Stalinism rears its head. The catastrophic mismanagement of the ‘new’ ECW is touched on but never explored whilst Heyman’s partnership with CM Punk is relegated to a footnote. Instead, we get an in depth exploration of his work with Brock Lesnar and a wrap up which almost takes the bad taste of the revisionism away. Heyman, it seems, is at his happiest working with new talent because even now he’s still a student of the game as much as a teacher. It’s that openness, that honesty and willingness to learn that has driven him at least as much as his much vaunted ‘hustle’. Paul Heyman loves what he does, and that love is one of the most honest, belligerent, entertaining things in modern professional wrestling. It shines through in every frame here, honestly ambiguous and ambiguously honest. Paul Heyman, the mad scientist of the grey area, taking a well deserved bow.
Normally the extra discs in sets like this are collections of matches. Here that’s not practical so, instead, we get a wide array of Heyman’s promos. He’s one of the four greatest talkers in professional wrestling history so it’s an immensely fun watch. Once again, it’s also a deliciously ambiguous one. Heyman’s honest emotion at being allowed to bring ECW back at One Night Stand is tempered by a promo that’s one part venomous one part stand-up comedy routine.
It’s a stark contrast to the opening promo of the ‘new’ ECW where Heyman’s disgust at what’s been done to his baby is louder than anything he says.
However, it’s the CM Punk ‘obituary’ that will stay with you though; Heyman sent out to a Chicago crowd to explain why their favourite son, and his friend, isn’t in the building. Sitting cross legged in the middle of the ring, Heyman lays out everything that’s happened, blames the fans for Punk’s departure, puts Punk over, puts himself over and eviscerates the company at the same time as boosting it. It’s an astonishing performance, angry, honest, fabricated and sad all at once. The mad scientist may have taken a bow, but he’s only going to be done when he decides to be.
Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray for around £30