Rating: I’m going to go in hard on this and give it a C+.
Summary: The life of André René Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant.
If you don’t know who Andre the Giant is, you’ve been living under a Rock. GET IT.
HBO’s Andre the Giant is a documentary which covers the early life, rise to fame, and the downward spiral of Andre Rousimoff, known to many as Andre the Giant or Fezzik from The Princess Bride. In a quick summary, Andre’s rise to fame was due to acromegaly that made him unhidable and a prominent figure wherever he went. Andre stood at 7 foot 4 inches, over 500 pounds, which made him lead a truly unique life.
It was also a highly uncomfortable life, which Andre was known to carry with grace and kindness, a gentleness that people didn’t normally associate with his size. It lends even more to his legend, his reputation, and the fondness of his memory.
HBO kind of gets there with this documentary, but focuses more on the myth of Andre the Giant, the stage presence, the face we saw on television- not so much the man behind the name. In a disappointing and expected fashion with most wrestling subjects, there’s a visible difficulty between kayfabe (slang for what wrestling presents as true) and what actually happened behind the scenes. Now, if this documentary had come out pre-internet, pre WWE-network, pre-Chris Jericho biographies, I might have given this a pass. However, this debuted in a time where we know what happens behind the scenes, we know the differences of backstage politics from decade to decade, and we know how wrestlers were and currently are treated today. We have reports and visual evidence of what Andre was subject to, what he was suffering from, and how he was seen. I’m not faulting HBO for most of this, but there’s a real lean towards the Andre the Giant legacy instead of Andre the Human. It’s far from what we expect from a documentary that’s not associated with the WWE streaming service.
I want to make this very clear- I’m not blaming the filmmakers for this. They do what they can with the information they are given. That being said, the information they are given is pretty useless- I’m more upset with the wrestlers they chose to interview. And also, the pieces that seem to get cut. Ok, maybe like, 30% filmmakers.
Andre deserves more than this. The majority of the documentary revels in wrestling’s rise in viewers and television expansion and how Andre played a role in this- rightfully so- but there’s a noticeable lack in addressing the issues from back then that we’re aware of today. Absolutely none of the industry’s drug abuse is addressed. None of the in-ring abuse is even referenced. Andre’s subsequent alcoholism- his coping mechanism for dealing with not only the in-ring pain but also his general size- is presented from a party animal aspect, a guy who could put away a case of wine or a 24-pack for dinner. There’s not even any admittance from management personalities that Andre was being booked 7 times a week- meaning 7 matches in 7 different cities- which included not just matches, but uncomfortable travel and accommodations for very long amounts of time. There’s no accountability or responsibility taking from most of the speakers. Certain people come close- noticeably the cast and crew of The Princess Bride and Tim White to name a few- but it’s disheartening to see that a lot of the wrestling personas talk about Andre as an accessory of themselves or dismiss any notion of his humanity.
Overall, there are too many troublesome moments in the documentary that get shelved aside in favor of glory and sell-out crowds. The worst bit comes in the 10 to 15 minutes of screentime devoted to explaining the rise of Hulk Hogan and his feud with Andre, while glossing over how much pain he was in. Hogan walks us through how he called the match, giving himself more pats on the back for making it successful.
This might also be the best bit- WWE CEO Vince McMahon claims Andre participated in Wrestlemania after undergoing serious surgery because it was “what he lived for”- not because McMahon was after the money and probably guilted Andre into it- but in certain segments, McMahon zones out as he tries to be PC about the business. You can see there’s something on his mind and he has more to say. I wish he had said it.
I get that this is complicated- old school wrestling likes to stick to their stories and for the most part, they like to keep up the illusion of the feuds. Old school wrestling has a lot of egos and they like to hear themselves talk about themselves. But when this ended, I was more angry and upset that much of this industry and as a result, most of Andre’s true story was not brought to light by the very people he gave his heart to.
Maybe I’m too close to the subject to the point where I can just tell when the interviewees are being douchebags. It’s possible that unfamiliarity will play a huge role in highlighting exactly what’s wrong with the personas and anecdotes that appear. I hope that smart viewers who aren’t wrestling savvy will recognize where the egos that get in the way of all this, how money and greed played a huge role in Andre’s health, how wrestling business around Andre was conducted no better than circus “freak shows”- you know, all the reading between the lines stuff. I wish this had been a happy cry, one that made me proud to have had him in the product. It wasn’t. I wasn’t.
It makes me cringe to think about how future wrestling documentaries will be made. I can pretty much expect the stories the WWE will tell- I’d love to see what an outside source has to give to, say, an Eddie Guerrero documentary. But we’ll never get those. Le sigh.
More than that, I just want people, wrestling fans and non-fans alike, to understand what a giving, generous, and wonderful person Andre the Giant was. He really was truly special.