Bret Hart, Hitman and Wrestling with Shadows

I’ve just finished reading Bret Hart’s autobiography, Hitman, a book that examines Hart’s life in wrestling from the early days in Calgary, through his WWF heydays, Montreal screwjob and beyond.

Although it’s a book that’s framed by wrestling, and its many tragedies and delights, it’s primarily about Hart’s quite incredible life and the characters that populate it. I’d recommend it to anyone.

A multi-time WWF champ and widely considered one of the best of all time, Hart lives a successful and generally happy life until the late 90s. From that point on it seems to be one bona fide tragedy after another.

Bret’s suffering is almost Promethean, with a litany of deaths or cripplings of close families and friends, the failure of his marriage, his stroke and the destruction of his sporting legacy hitting him in rapid succession.

It’s hard not to put most of them down to the life of a wrestler, forever pained, lonely and exploited.

On top of the vagaries of the wrestling business are his unhappy home life, his treacherous and jealous siblings – 11 in total – and complicated relationship with his father.

Bret does his best to look after everyone, allowing numerous members of his family to ride his coat-tails, but is repaid with knives in the back and a grimly mounting body count.

Hart strikes a genuinely tragic figure, but a likeable and admirable one, and the insight into the minds of the vicious and ill-fated Tom ‘Dynamite Kid’ Billington (whose own book is painfully and unpleasantly honest), slippery Vince McMahon, and just about every big- and little-name wrestler over the last 30 years is fascinating.

If there’s one conceivable criticism, it’s that Hart can have a tendency to see things in black and white – something that becomes evident in Wrestling With Shadows, and something that makes him incompatible with the Attitude era WWF – but it’s hard to be tough on the man.

Hart is too sensitive a soul for the knockabout world of professional wrestling that developed in the WWF in the late 90’s, and his bafflement at what he sees places him squarely as a good man out of time, adrift in vulgarity, ultraviolence, moral relativism and dishonour.

• The National Film Board of Canada has made Wrestling With Shadows available for free online and embeddable too, so you can watch it below.

A modern-day moral parable, the film is shot by a crew that follows Bret around for several months prior to his departure from the WWF to WCW.

Luckily for them, they happen to catch the blow-by-blow backstage account of the Montreal Screwjob including, happily, the aftermath of Hart knocking Vince out cold.

• Watch Wrestling With Shadows below

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows by Paul Jay, National Film Board of Canada

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