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By Mariko McDonald | June 10, 2004

This was accomplished in short order when we popped in the alternatingly horrifying and genuinely uplifting “The Backyard”. Even though the Den of Sinners are no strangers to extreme bodily punishment as entertainment (at the moment the FI and I happen to be in the possession of a copy of “Steve-O: Out on Bail” which we have watched all the way through, twice), nothing could have prepared us for the intensity and determination with which these people injure, mutilate and otherwise scar themselves permanently. We start out in the Arizona desert as two fairly white-trash brothers prepare for their “Three Stages of Hell 2” match, which we learn is indeed a sequel and that someone was rushed to the emergency room during the original. Helping them dig the open grave into which the loser will be thrown (after it is filled with barbed wire and florescent light tubes, not to mention the fire…) is dear old mom. Although mom may not necessarily be happy with their chosen pastime, she plays along reading her scripted lines into the camera and chastising the least favorite son as he is beaten with glass picture frames. She’s got the patter down. They all do. In fact most of the kids (and men, and women) featured in “The Backyard” do the rhetorical WWE trash talking better than most professional wrestlers.

Throughout the entire running time the members of the peanut gallery were either gasping in awe and horror, covering their eyes and wincing in pain, laughing hysterically or screaming at the top of their lungs, “No, God no not that!” The other thing we were struck by was just how well put together the film was. Expecting just a mishmash of stupid behavior caught on tape for us to mock we were instead met by a very even handed and astonishingly well paced piece of cinematic art. Director Paul Hough manages to keep you guessing the entire length: every time you think you’ve sussed out what backyard wrestling is all about he reveals something even more troubling or does a complete turnaround and introduces you to the parents of these kids, a startling number of whom are in fact upstanding members of the community and completely supportive. The entire spectrum is covered: frightening burnout types whose “stunts” border on sadism, feats of athleticism and timing, masochistic soul bearing, aging dreamers and even a shady promoter.

Probably one of the better surprises Hough unleashes is the revelation of an English backyard league. Not to be outdone by their redneck cousins, these kids want to distinguish themselves from “rubbish American wrestling”. Unfortunately, aside from the accents which for some reason lend an air of dignity to the proceedings, none of us could tell the difference. They still smash each other with things, trash talk, “blade” (the practice of strategically cutting oneself with a razor blade so that you bleed from the head) and injure themselves. And then they go to tea.

The uplifting part of the doco comes in the form of a man know as “The Lizard”. The Lizard has a mullet, is missing some teeth, don’t talk so good and lives, breaths, and sleeps wrestling. We watch him as he prepares for a surprisingly well organized backyard match and then catch up with him later as he prepares for an audition for the WWE with the top prize being a scholarship to wrestling school. Although The Lizard does fit the stereotypical vision of white trash, you actually start to feel bad for making fun of him because you realize how serious this is to him. This is his one way ticket out of the trailer park, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get there. As silly a dream as this may seem to some, watching the smile on his face when he does save up enough money to go to wrestling school actually warms the heart.

Rumblings from the peanut gallery: Aside from agreeing that “Jefftowne” should have been a 15 minute short people didn’t have much to say about it. Well, there were a couple of people who were waiting for him to turn into his super hero alter-ego and wreak vengeance down on the world but I chose not to pay attention to them. “The Backyard” was the clear crowd favorite with everyone taking something different from it. I was scared shitless of “Chaos” and his homophobic self-mutilating entourage, Graeme was unsettled by the two brothers and the rest of us were cheering loudly for the hapless Lizard.

Mariko McDonald and her boyfriend host a weekly film night in their apartment, affectionately known as the Den of Sin. It’s kinda like evil film school. Monthly screening schedules are available at and if you happen to live in the Vancouver, BC area and are interested in catching a screening please drop her a line at filmgurl79@hotmail dot com. Suggestions, hate mail and cute pictures of cats also accepted.

And of course you can always offer up some juicy Back Talk>>>

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