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11/14/1998 8:50:59 AM

Canadian Press says...
Documentary an insightful look at Hart and his world
by: Benson Lee -- Canadian Press

TORONTO -- Fans of professional wrestling aren't too concerned with who wins or loses anymore. Wrestlers aren't so much "babyfaces" (heroes) or "heels" (villains) as they are fan-favourites, regardless of their character traits.

This apparent ambiguity of good and evil in the World Wrestling Federation didn't sit well with Bret (Hitman) Hart, and it eventually culminated in his departure from the organization. And it was an ugly ending, as depicted vividly in Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows.

Hart, known for his long hair, pink-and-black outfits, wraparound sunglasses and "sharp-shooter" submission hold, is considered among wrestling's elite talent, as popular and respected as current WWF superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin. Wrestling is in Hart's blood; his father Stu was a pro wrestler who raised all eight of his sons to become wrestlers themselves. Bret's four sisters also married wrestlers.

Somewhat surprisingly, the documentary is filmed without being hindered by the veil of secrecy normally draped over the inner machinations of the professional wrestling world. No attempt is made to hide the fact that the endings of all matches are scripted and known to the combatants. All matches, except for Hart's WWF finale in Montreal.

Longtime followers of Hart will already be familiar with the former champion's betrayal by WWF owner Vince McMahon. Now fans will be able to follow the events leading up to that fateful night and judge the situation for themselves. Along the way, we are shown glimpses of Hart's daily life and see that his dedication to wrestling has not come without its costs.

In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, Hart acknowledges he hasn't always been the ideal father or husband. He recently divorced his wife Julie.

Hart consistently refers to his wrestling alter ego in the third person. "What they did is, they murdered this Hitman character," he says with more than a trace of bitterness. Before McMahon's double-cross, Hart likened the possibility of losing the WWF championship belt on his native Canadian soil to being raped in the ring. While this sounds like hyperbole even by professional wrestling standards, it does show how intensely Hart cares about his craft.

Indeed, Hart refers to professional wrestling as an art. He works on a canvas of a different sort, and his choice of medium is a punch or a piledriver, not paint, but like most artists, Hart has an unquenchable thirst for success.

In a "sport" in which victories seem secondary to story lines, Hart is portrayed as a man who wants badly to win and be acknowledged as the best. In a seeming contradiction, he also says he can't wait for the day that he gets out of professional wrestling so he can lead a normal life.

Despite the revelation of wrestling's "secrets" on a recent TV show, one sees that "fake" moves can still result in serious injuries, as shown during footage of a match in which Hart fractured his sternum and ribs after crashing into the steel railing separating the ring from the crowd. Fans will also note with interest that while the winner of a match is predetermined days or weeks in advance, the way in which it ends is often decided upon just hours before the bout itself.

Aside from the real-life drama, fans will appreciate the bits that show Hart acting like a normal human being. See Hart doling out dinner at the kitchen table to his four kids. See Hart controlling an animated version of himself in a video game. See Hart flubbing his lines as he records a promotional video clip.

McMahon, meanwhile, is unrepentant to the end.

"Bret Hart screwed Bret Hart, and he can look in the mirror and know that," he says without a measure of remorse.

McMahon has since used the incident to his advantage and cast himself as a villain in the WWF's ongoing story line.

It makes for compelling viewing for wrestling fans, even if it is real.

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