(Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana! had its world premier at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. It is unclear where this insane documentary will head to next but according to Donna K., you should keep an eye out)
A crusty man smears a thick stick of oily red makeup across his face into a creepy clown smile, white paint surrounds his grin, a soiled yellow costume holds him tight as a pink wig sits on his head. He dry humps his opponents on stage in front of a screaming audience. Meet Ronald McFondle, a member of the Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestlers. Other members include Weapons of Mass Destruction (“created from the mind of George W. Bush”), Eddie Van Glam, Banana, and, of course, Second Banana. This group of well meaning near derelicts stage rowdy wrestling matches in a local gay bar. Chants of “Fuck him up” rile the crowd. Patrons are encouraged to “finish their beer before throwing them.” The stage shakes with loud pratfalls that sound and look like death. The whole thing is like cabaret meets WWE- a bit like Kaiju Big Battel but with much more heart & soul. All of this is captured in the new feature documentary Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana!
The open door policy of the wrestlers results in a problem though as reserved Paul (aka Banana), a socially awkward, not quite evil misanthrope, joins the ranks. Feeling ostracized and alone, both among the wrestlers and in the world, he blows the whistle on the group who have been operating under the wrestling licensing radar. Will the Banana prevail? Will the wrestlers be allowed to continue their labor of love? I won’t tell you. You should see it. But what I will tell you is that this film is not just some novelty story about a vengeful banana.
In their documentary feature debut filmmakers John Paul Horstmann and Ryan Harvie take little detours into the lives of the individual wrestlers, they look at the performers behind the alter egos but do so with a subtle caring that moves outward from the narrative and into the filmmaking. The cinematography captures a feeling of closeness through perfect tight frames, blown out lenses and colors, which are then precisely edited together with a collage of SSP video footage taken over the years, all of which is set to an awesome soundtrack that helps to turn up the story just a bit more- the whole of film makes you feel like you know these dudes. It makes you sympathize with their struggle, to feel their love, energy and creativity- even if that creativity takes the form of a clown whose signature move is the shocker (mom, don’t look that up).
During a Q&A of the film at Tribeca Film Fest (which I was lucky enough to moderate!) the filmmakers, crew, and many of the wrestlers- championship belt in hand- triumphantly took to the stage. The funny thing is that nearly all of them were shy, some even a bit shaky while holding the mic. After watching them play out these rough and ridiculous personas it was funny to see in person that under the make up and the hot pants they are just like most people, looking for some way to express themselves and looking for a family, which is even what misguided Paul the Banana was in search of too. The film is like a punk family photo album full of pictures of your crazy uncles, and put together by your sensitive, artistic older brothers. But unlike most family photo albums this one is dark, beautiful and really deserves to be shared.
– Donna K. (@TeamDonnaK)