This past Sunday, at the Bell Lightbox Theatre in Toronto, I was able to make it out the Hot Docs film festival and take in a very special Canadian documentary feature. Not only a feature that would appeal to wrestling fans but to social media fans and film fans alike. The film I am talking about is The Sheik, a document of the trials and tribulations of former WWF champion and WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik. If you’ve followed the career of the man, or even just started following him on Twitter, you already know that he has a reputation of threatening to make folks humble and that is something that this film claimed it would do as well. Although the doc is highly entertaining, I don’t know if “humble” is the right word for what this film brings to it’s audience.
Born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri in 1942, The Sheik grew up in Iran and began training for Greco-Roman style wrestling at a very young age. When he was old enough, he volunteered for a term in the Iranian army before becoming a personal bodyguard for the Shah and his family. A short while after that, he decided to come to America where he became one of the coaches for the U.S. Olympic team. To many, that would have been a full life and career but for the Iron Sheik, it was just the beginning. After training at Verne Gagne’s wrestling camp (in the same class that would produce the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair), Sheik started a long and fruitful career in professional wrestling. In the heyday of the 80’s, he would have a hand in helping start the phenomenon known as Hulkamania by being the first big opponent to “job” to Hulk Hogan and make him a World Champion. As the decade progressed, The Sheik would see his star fade as mistakes made in “protecting the business” and problems with drugs would lead him down a dark path that would alienate him from his family and effectively end his career. The latter half of the film focuses on the Sheik turning his life around, his rise as a social media star and even his recent criticisms of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
When watching this film by Igal Hecht, it’s obvious that that The Iron Sheik is bubbling over with charisma and it would be impossible to make a boring movie with this man as its subject. He is a ball of energy and speaks with passion about himself, his past and even his addictions. The scenes where it is just Sheik being interviewed are exciting and unpredictable as it is impossible to know exactly what he will say at any given moment (besides “jibroni“). The interviews with wrestling industry professionals are also very well used in the piece. The fact that Jim Ross follows The Sheik’s twitter and hears the Sheik’s voice while reading his tweets was a funny bit of information. Jake Roberts’ belief that The Sheik should have taken Verne Gagne’s payoff and broken Hulk Hogan’s leg is surprising, especially to a wrestling fan who knows that that one moment may have changed the history of the wrestling business completely. With tidbits from the likes of Bruce “Brother Love” Prichard, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggen and “Cowboy” Bob Orton just to name a few, we get some great insight on the man from his peers and are treated to more than a few funny stories. But all of these inteviews, while valid and a great addition to the film, pale in comparison to that of The Rock’s testimony on the Sheik. Growing up in the wrestling business, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s father worked with The Iron Sheik on a regular basis. This caused a freindship to form between their two families as both the Sheik’s and Rocky Johnson’s wives became close friends. The Rock shares some of his thoughts on this man who’s been part of his life and the advice he gave to him when he started in the WWF. He even credits the man with his use of “jabroni” as one of his catch phrases. His interview and those of other wrestling legends in the piece do a great job of letting us know Sheik as both a performer and a human being. At the end of the film, they each give their parting shots by doing their own impression of the famous Sheik sign off where he praises himself and spits on his opponents.
For the most part, his entire life is represented in this film, even up to present day, with the exception of his struggle to get over his drug addictions. Producer Jian Magen goes to visit the Sheik in his home near the middle of the film and sees that the Sheik’s life is a mess. He then makes it his mission to help him get clean. We then jump 4 years into the future and the Sheik is now on the straight and narrow, trying to stay healthy. There’s no real examination of his recovery. Even if they didn’t want to document this struggle first hand, they could’ve at least explored Sheik’s struggles to get over his addictions through interviews with those who were there for it. Also, it comes off as a bit strange when Magen inserts himself into the film he’s producing as almost a savior-like persona who’s worried about his hero’s health and well being. Thankfully, this was just a slight hiccup in the overall presentation.
After the screening, the Sheik was on hand to answer questions from the audience and did so in usual Sheik fashion. When asked about Mayor Rob Ford standing him up for lunch and not seeing his film, he took the time to bury that jabroni and sing the praises of mayoral candidate, Olivia Chow. “Rob Ford just eat cheeseburger and smoke crack. If Sheik can get off crack than so can Rob Ford. I like…what’s her name….Olivia Chow. She come to see movie.” After the screening, the Sheik posed for pictures with his many fans and appeared to be having a great time.
While the film does gloss over a bit of the drug problems by not showing the rehabilitation and there is a strange retelling of his career that makes it look like The Sheik never returned to the WWE after his first firing, this is a pretty solid look at the life of an icon in professional wrestling. It’s also an interesting examination of an entertaining man. Even if you are not a wrestling fan, I think you would find yourself hardpressed to not like this film. There is one more screening for The Sheik at Hot Docs – At the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Saturday, May 3rd at 6:30pm. After that, the film will be available online at sheikmovie.com starting May 8th. Be sure to check it out or The Sheik will “Suplex you, put you in the camel clutch, break your back, f*ck you in the ass and make you humble!”
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!