I was first exposed to wrestling by my dad, whose favorite wrestler was Dusty Rhodes. When I was growing up, he’d surprise-attack me, hollering, “I’m the American Dream,” then lift my 7-year-old body into the air, slam me on the couch and go for the pin. I’d escape after the second count and triumphantly rebound to victory, leaving my dad defeated on our green living room carpet as I paraded around the house with my hands in the air.
Fast-forward a few years: My cousins persuaded their mom to let us record our wrestling matches with her Sony Handycam. It was the first video camera I ever used. We had entrance music, costumes and special moves. A few years later, in my early teens, I’d stay up half the night with friends playing WCW vs. nWo: World Tour for Nintendo 64. I always selected my favorite wrestler, Macho Man Randy Savage. By this time I was becoming aware of professional wrestling’s being “fake.” But Macho Man said every word with such conviction, with a thought process that sounded nearly insane. I wondered: So if wrestling is fake, does Macho Man know?
Things began to change when my family relocated from extremely rural northern Georgia to slightly less rural western North Carolina. My world got bigger. I started listening to more than just Christian music and watching movies outside my family’s approved watch-list and my grandfather’s westerns. I was drifting away from wrestling. Then I saw Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and became an evangelist for the film, offering my critical review to anyone who would listen: “You have to see it. It has everything. Drama. Romance. Revenge. Good versus evil.” Film became my defining interest by my late teens; if you were going to know anything about me, I wanted it to be that I was into films. I had grown out of wrestling, and I was proud of myself for having the maturity to do so. Wrestling was fake and crude, while legitimate cinema was subtle and poetic. I still loved Randy Savage, but in the way you love a childhood friend you don’t really relate to anymore.
But in the first few minutes after meeting the wrestler Cauliflower Chase Brown, when we happened to share a table with our significant others at a poorly attended dinner party, I realized how wrong I had been about wrestling. “It’s storytelling,” Chase told me. “There’s more to it than people realize.” He drew comparisons to classical Greek theater, Shakespeare and, most notably, philosophy, his area of study at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. He talked about concepts of truth and the factors that make a character good or evil. The role of catharsis and how to understand a crowd. How wrestling, at its best, is the closest form of theater to jazz. I felt appropriately called out for my judgments of wrestling over the years, understanding that I had reserved the power of story to acclaimed films and other “higher forms” of art as approved by cultural authorities. I had become a snob.
With this film, “The Aria of Babyface Cauliflower Brown,” I’m attempting to recreate the feeling and conviction I had while listening to Chase describe the art he loves. In doing so, I’m mixing many forms and layers of art, style and storytelling with wrestling. Chase’s rhetoric is overlaid with an aria, Desdemona’s prayer from Verdi’s “Otello,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Peter Paul Rubens’s painting “The Fall of Phaeton,” an interpretation of a Greek myth, is a key visual reference for framing and color. Slow motion is used as a way to help see wrestling with different eyes, placing it closer stylistically to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” than “Monday Night RAW.” All these choices were made to elevate wrestling, not from what it is but to a form that snobs like me can understand.
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