New York Post
Tuesday, April 29, 2003


     It's tempting to imagine how the people who sent death threats to filmmaker Paul Hough would have tried to carry them out.

     Would they have flung him into a flaming pit lined with barbed wire — or bashed him in the head with glass and then stabbed him with the pieces?

     Maybe worse, considering that's what the stars of the documentary "The Backyard" do to their friends, not their enemies.

     When word got around that Hough was making a movie about backyard wrestling — about the subculture of teens who imitate their favorite pro wrestlers by pummeling each other into a bloody mess for the entertainment of friends and neighbors — many very tough guys were not happy.

     "Initially, I had some anonymous e-mails from people who said they were going to kill me," Hough recalls.

     "After the Atlanta screening, the same people wrote back to say it was a fair representation."

     The documentary, which screens tonight at 7 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art as part of the Brooklyn International Film Festival, is simultaneously fascinating and appalling.

     The violence is shocking, but then it starts to make a perverse kind of sense.

     Some kids mutilate themselves deliberately and proudly show off their scars, but most of the standard arsenal — barbed wire, broken light bulbs, lighter fluid, folding tables, thumbtacks — is calculated to cause highly visible, entertainment-quality damage without truly risking permanent injury.

     "Everything's going to hurt, but after you wrestle on [stuff] like this for at least a year, it's not going to faze you anymore," a local impresario named "Chaos" says in the film.

     What may shock people the most is not the body slams or the flowing blood, but that the wrestlers' parents watch their matches appreciatively.

     "It's an extension of — in Hollywood and New York, maybe — stage mums," says the British-born Hough, an NYU film grad.

     "They want their kids to become famous. In many cases they can't afford to send their kids to wrestling school, so this is their way."

     Former backyard wrestler Phil Snyder — now a senior studying hotel management at the College of the Adirondacks — says putting on a wrestling show was just one of the things he and his friends used to do for fun — they played chess, too.

     And they made sure to put safety first.

     "I don't want to scar myself," he says. "I don't want to go to a job interview with a scar on my head. I'm in the hospitality industry, and appearance is everything."

     Snyder and his buddies grew out of wrestling after high school, but he still considers it a great experience.

     "When I have kids, if they want to wrestle, I'm not going to say no. But I am going to monitor them," Snyder says.

     "I'd probably even show them a thing or two."