In the upstairs room on the far right of my childhood home, there was a television set high above the room. I tried my best to sit up in the bed which I shared with my mother every night and follow the figure on the screen, but I found it to be a nearly impossible experience one night. I thought maybe our television was too small. But it really wasn’t. It was pretty big. Perhaps, it was because I was too small and too young. I was only a toddler around the time, and could barely sit up in the bed to see the television. But it wasn’t this either. My mom would prop up a pillow, so that I could see the television as she lay beside me. I knew that it was only the gigantic figure on it and the gigantic figure only which fascinated me. I gave up. I turned to my mom and pointed, “Who is that?” She said, “That’s Andre the Giant.” I smiled a smile so big, in which my mom began to tell me a tall tale of a Giant who lived and wrestled, and the rest was history.
Every time I see Andre The Giant or hear Andre The Giant’s name, I revert back to this story of me in my childhood home watching professional wrestling on television for one of the very first times. This was indeed Andre The Giant. A figure so large that it jumped off the television set, and transcended your mere existence, even your size and age. At 7’4” and 500 pounds, this was indeed a giant, a true wonder, and a pro wrestler fit for curious children like me and adults who liked their television sets. Like most wrestling fans, I have Andre The Giant to thank for being a part of my introduction to pro wrestling.
That was over 20 years ago when I was a little girl watching wrestling and learning about Andre The Giant. It feels like an even longer time ago now that a new documentary on the late-great legend released earlier this month courtesy of an HBO Sports, WWE, JMH, and Ringer Films collaboration. The documentary, directed by Jason Hehir, carried a similar hype as this from the illustrious trailer, and it was hard not to carry some of your personal hype into the film. After all, the film carried the hashtag, ‘ #MyAndreStory, ‘ stating the inevitable: we all have an Andre story. All of this and more is what makes it easy for the documentary to explore such a memorable figure through a contemporary lens. The documentary, cleverly titled Andre The Giant, is – more than anything – necessary.
The newness of a documentary film today and the oldness of a subject like Andre The Giant works in this film like never before. Who asked for another Andre doc and what could possibly be in another Andre documentary anyway? The film does a great job of answering this with information overload. The film starts out with Andre’s childhood growing up in France with his parents and siblings. The segment is short and works as an intro for all the necessary facts, as it focuses on his growth spurt as a teenager and the sports that he played, which included rugby before training to become a wrestler at a local gym. The film gets into the fun facts. At just 19 years old, Andre already stood at 6’9” and weighed over 300 pounds, which made it easy for him to develop his lumberjack gimmick when he first started out in wrestling. And his name then? Jean Ferre.
Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum… here comes our Giant, Andre The Giant. And he is not alone. He is with close friends and family, wrestling historians, and legends who have one thing in common: an admiration for wrestling and Andre The Giant. David Shoemaker from The Ringer, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Vince McMahon himself are among those eager to share their breadth of knowledge. In this knowledge is a lot of history of pro wrestling, which uplifts Andre’s significance to the early foundation of wrestling. There’s archival footage between the commentary that is especially easy on the eyes for history buffs. The footage, along with the commentary, gives the film an openness, clarity, and meaning. The film is almost like staring at one big picture of Andre, then sounding off on everything you’ve ever known or wanted to say about him as a wrestling historian and fan. Except, the things said in this documentary are even better because they’re produced together in scenes exactly like a picture-perfect movie exploring an important subject.
With only a little filter, the historians and legends want to talk wrestling. The gift of Andre’s time allows them to do so with ease, so they start from the beginning. Andre’s time in professional wrestling began almost as professional wrestling began: in the territories. Territorial wrestling, for all those who don’t know, is ran by local promotions in small regions unlike the Worldwide televised wrestling of today. In Andre’s case of making it big, it isn’t exactly unlike the professional wrestling of today, but it is very much long before wrestling today. In the territory days, you had the guys who used their humble beginnings to perform this budding sport. Luckily, there were gimmicks – which spoiled wrestling in that pro wrestling was in-fact a scripted art and not real violence as many assumed – but it also helped the development of the sport. This especially helped Andre, whose size was an obvious attraction and thus became an easy-to-use gimmick. His size was him and he was his size – and it captivated fans. To add, Andre had an enormous smile, which interested fans even more in “The Giant” tale. How could such a large and violent man be so gentle and kind? “The Gentle Giant” quickly became the tale of Andre. Because all of it was real and natural for Andre, it was truth more so than it was a tale.
Through the natural image of this giant and what those closest to the business have to say, there is a lot of truth in this documentary. Andre’s legacy is an apparent one, one void of the television spectacle or mythology. A large part of Andre’s legacy is cemented in nothing but truth. Andre has lived outside of the norm for most of his life, further proving him to be a person who paved the way for special wrestlers to make their way into a special business.
Even the truth of Andre coupled with the tales of professional wrestling leaves room for only one tale: the real, true story of Andre, born André René Roussimoff. The details about Andre are an entertaining stretch that the business and fans can enjoy. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair talk about Andre’s farts and how he liked to drink after the show. This is also the time apparently to harp straightforwardly on Andre’s size. How he couldn’t use the bathrooms and had to go in a bucket that they would then take and dump in a toilet for him. How he couldn’t fit in any beds anywhere. How he couldn’t fit into the cars that they drove for him. How his ring fit around three fingers of “Mean” Gene Okerlund. The stories drift off from the archive and formal structure, showing a genuineness that produces a certain tone for the film which makes it more of a dedication to Andre than a movie.
The tone of the film speaks volumes. By the time we get to the height of Andre’s career, such as his venture into entertainment in “The Princess Bride” and the historic showdown at WrestleMania III against Hogan, there’s really nothing to say. The mere inclusion of “The Princess Bride,” which the film spends ample time on, shines a bright light on Andre. Then, Hogan vs Andre receives a significant amount of attention, and it receives both the attention that it got then because of its history and newer attention because of everything that went on behind the match. Hogan pretty much takes over during this time, which makes you wish that this was a film entirely on Hogan vs Andre. But it’s okay because we only get more genuine details about Andre. Like how Andre was turned into the bad guy for the first time. Also, how much went into making the match on a notepad of Hogan’s own writings. And of course, there’s footage of the famous first punch by Andre, then the next three punches by Hogan. The film simply relives these moments, allowing us to soak in the memories. Time gets away from us after all this, and we move toward the end, which is filled with injury and Andre’s untimely death. Even in this moment, although relaying information that you’ve heard before, there is still clear attention to the depiction of it. There seems to be nothing more to say than the way Vince McMahon chokes up at the end and says, “He was special.”
Andre himself said all there is to say in the beginning, “I don’t want to live on a farm all my life. I want to make money. I want to be somebody.” Andre got to do all three of those things. He traveled the world. He eventually made a lot of money for it. And he got to be somebody. He really got to be somebody. Wrestling fans have experienced many legends, being spearheaded by the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and – ah, Andre The Giant, an enormous human being in every sense of the word.
Much like Andre’s life and career, Andre The Giant is an obvious documentary. It is shorter than you hoped, leaving out some things that you missed in another documentary or hoped for, probably. But it is nonetheless a documentary on one of the most memorable figures of a fascinating sport. It is a strong look into the man, the myth, and the legend just as the film promised.