The Further Exploitation of Andre the Giant

Andre-The-GiantA well known figure in the contrived circus of “professional wrestling,” Andre the Giant became most widely beloved when he was featured in the Hollywood fairy tale classic “The Princess Bride.” That accounts for a little, but not a lot of the documentary “Andre the Giant” (HBO, 8 p.m.).

Instead, it’s about how the shy farm boy from France with a glandular problem was exploited by carnie-like wrestling promotors just as he would have been exploited and paraded around by P.T. Barnum a century earlier.

Here is an ESPN Sports documentary not really about a sport at all but an approximation of one. The WWE co-produced the thing, so there’s a lot of talk about how powerful he was in the ring in matches that were scripted and choreographed from the start. When they say Andre really beat up a guy in the ring, they mean they really made it appear as if he was.

At the height of his career, he was pitted against protege Hulk Hogan in WrestleMania III, a turnabout that made Hogan shed a tear, probably because he stuck a dab of Vaseline in his eye to make the tears drop, as he admits in the film.

We hear how much Andre drank, and in an illuminating segment, how much he farted. Mostly we marvel at him the same way we would by paying 50 cents at the side show. The only time we hear his voice is when he’s being interviewed by the fake ringside reporters. We only get close to him when his surviving relatives talk about him back in France.

There’s a whole level of Andre’s renown that is never mentioned: How his face (and at first, his name too) was used in a widely successful international viral sticker campaign from Shepard Fairey (“OBEY”), but that was done at odds with his wrestling overlords.

Instead, the film ends by recounting Andre’s 1993 death at 46, which causes people like Hulk and Vince McMahon to shed tears. But they could have just used that trick of dabbing their eyes with Vaseline before.

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