On today’s episode of The Wrestling Inc. Daily, Wrestling Inc. Managing Editor Nick Hausman aired his sit down interview with director Rory Karpf. Karpf directed the 30 for 30 documentary, Nature Boy, that documented the life and career of two-time WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair. Hausman spoke to Karpf this past Friday after the Dark Side of the Ring episode on the “Plane Ride From Hell” had premiered, and Karpf gave his thoughts on it.
“Well, for starters, I think this series, Dark Side of the Ring, is incredible. To me, it’s one of the best documentary series ever, not just wrestling series, and I told Evan [Husney], one of the creators of it,” Karpf said. “I messaged him through the years from the Chris Benoit episode to Jimmy Snuka to Owen Hart. I just think they do such an incredible job, and it’s not even necessarily the ‘dark side of the ring’. It’s the human side of the ring.
“The show has a lot of heart, and it doesn’t matter what the episode is, they find a way to emotionally pull you in. You think you’re gonna watch something that’s just going to be comical or funny, like Herb Abrams, and you find yourself crying at the end. I thought the episode was excellent and disturbing, to be honest with you. I couldn’t sleep after watching it. I was up for a few hours, just pretty troubled by what I saw.”
Karpf’s Flair 30 for 30 documentary was hyped and developed for years. He discussed on The Wrestling Inc. Daily the research that went into the “Plane Ride From Hell” as the documentary was being made.
“I’d never heard that he had forced someone to touch his genitals,” Karpf admitted. “Everything with Ric that was construed as negative I tried to address in the 30 for 30. His drinking, his philandering, his adultery, his money problems, there’s quite a bit, but never, at least in the people that I spoke to, no one ever brought up that he would force himself on somebody. I did hear about him exposing himself, which to me is still troubling, very troubling behavior, and that is addressed in the 30 for 30.”
The “Plane Ride From Hell” has typically been a story presented with a humorous tone. Flair’s history of sexual misconduct over the years has also been presented through a humorous framework. Karpf talked about the framing of these stories, especially in light of the criticisms that his 30 For 30 is receiving in hindsight.
“I saw there was an article on Deadspin about it, and I read it today and I think it’s a pretty valid criticism of the film. Some of the wrestlers kind of jokingly talk about it, that he would expose himself, and in our story, he was exposing himself to the wrestlers, but there’s another story in the 30 for 30 where Greg Gagne talks about him doing it at a fraternity house to girls that were coming up.
“And that’s kind of told humorously as well, but as the director, I’m kind of responsible for the tone, and the tone is humorous. So it’s something, when I look back on it, I would say I think it’s a mistake that I made, or if we went with that, we should show the antithesis of the results of that kind of behavior, which we did in other areas of Ric’s life in the film.
“He jokes a lot in the film about just being a philanderer, but then you see the results of that from talking to his children and his ex wife, and you see that there’s victims to this kind of lifestyle. His drinking, people call him out on some of this behavior. It was important for me at the time, if somebody looked at that behavior, including Ric — sometimes he would tell a story and smile, but then you see the other side of that, and as a filmmaker, that’s what I tried to do is give kind of both sides or leave things maybe a little ambiguous and let the viewer figure it out.”
Karpf responded to the idea of whether he was charmed by Flair during the process of filming the documentary and speaking to Flair throughout.
“It’s not that. Take it back four years ago, this is the very first wrestling themed 30 for 30, and really, the first WWE involved project that WWE is not producing,” Karpf noted. “It wasn’t coming out on the WWE Network. It’s coming out on ESPN, so I would compare it maybe to the Michael Jordan thing, The Last Dance, that film series, where you have the person’s participation, and that’s a really big part of it.
“We didn’t just get Ric Flair, but we have The Undertaker, who did one of his very first out of character interviews in the film but also Ric Flair’s first wife, his children, a lot of people that were close to him, Jim Ross. We’re getting a lot of photos and footage, so it’s a balance, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with what’s going on in the news. Now, there’s an Alanis Morissette documentary. She did an interview and participated in it.
“She was a full participant, and she saw a cut and I don’t know the exact details of the film. I haven’t seen the film, but she was upset about something in there, and the filmmakers didn’t want to take it out. It is a balance with access. You’re getting access, but you also want to have the truth in the film. It’s a balancing act, tripwire, and there were things in the film that we fought for, that I fought for, that I wanted in.
“I can list some of them that I felt I wanted to be there that I was asked to take out but hindsight is 2020, and when I watched the clip of the plane ride — it was a different plane ride in the 30 for 30. They’re not talking about the ‘Plane Ride From Hell’, but it made me not feel good about it, watching it. In hindsight, I think I would have done things differently.”
Karpf further reflected to the criticisms for his Nature Boy documentary.
“I was really proud of the Ric Flair 30 for 30, Nature Boy, but I do think the criticism of it, I can’t remember that person (David Bixenspan) who wrote the article, but there was an article. Someone wrote about it, and they clipped off the clip from there, and I think it’s a valid criticism. As a filmmaker, as a person, I want to be open to criticism, and looking back, I don’t want to be someone who gives that kind of behavior a pass, especially if it causes someone else pain.
“I think that’s what really struck me is that on the episode, the flight attendant said some of these guys go back to their hotel room, and they pass out and they have a headache, but she’s crying in the shower. It’s something that, it seems, still affects her to this day, and I think if we’re going to live in a society that cares about people and each other, we should listen and take that stuff seriously.”
You can follow Rory on Twitter @RoryKarpf
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