by Heath Holland
Jake “The Snake” Roberts is a former WWF (now WWE) professional wrestler, famous for his steely eyes, quiet speaking voice that sounded like sandpaper, the live snakes he used in the ring, and the DDT, a wrestling move he invented. He was one of the biggest stars of wrestling in the 1980s and into the 1990s, but his eventual fall from grace is almost as legendary as his storied career. A very public struggle with drugs and alcohol sidelined his career, and he was one of the subjects of the now-classic (infamous?) 1999 wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat, which presents an unvarnished -- if a bit lopsided -- account of the dark side of professional wrestling. Jake Roberts eventually hit a wall in 2008 at an independent wrestling show and benefit in Ohio (shown here), drunkenly staggering to the ring and refusing to cooperate with his opponent. With nowhere to go but up, The Resurrection of Jake the Snake is a documentary chronicling the attempt to move upward.
The focus of the project centers on Dallas Page dedicating himself to bringing his mentor back from the edge and probably saving his life. Page clearly loves Roberts, and cites him as the man who inspired him to begin a career in wrestling at the age of 35, which is when some wrestler’s careers start to wind down. The odds were against Page, but he managed to find success and build a name for himself, and he credits Roberts with giving him the motivation to do this. When Page was injured and forced to retire, he used the time away from the ring to rebuild himself, and eventually others as well. He’s the founder of something called DDP Yoga, low-impact exercise for people who have joint pain and low mobility. He’s developed into something of a self-help guru on the last few years, and many, many people swear by his rehabilitation techniques. He calls his house in Atlanta “the accountability crib,” and it seems to be something of a halfway house for anyone he feels he can help, and it’s here that he brings Jake Roberts with the understanding that Roberts will be accountable for his drug and alcohol addiction and quit for good.
Along the way, another wrestling legend comes to live in Page’s house. Scott Hall, more commonly known as Razor Ramon, is drunk and nearly crippled from years of abuse both in the ring and outside of it, but Hall, Roberts, and Page share a kinship that was born from years of travelling up and down the road together. Their wrestling family often seems to have become a substitute for their real family, and the bond that the men share with each other seems almost unbreakable. With the addition of Scott Hall to the accountability crib, we get two resurrections for the price of one.
I feel really bad saying this because the subject matter couldn’t be more serious, but it does become numbing to see the same “one step forward, two steps back” chronicle of Roberts’ struggle with his own self-destructive nature. The first few times a beefcake wrestling star breaks down into tears on camera, it’s touching. But by the end of the documentary, it’s hard not to think “AGAIN?! We’re doing this AGAIN?!” You will see dozens of tear-stained confessions by the time the credits roll, and it all just becomes tedious. Sure, this documentary distills about four year’s worth of rehabilitation into 90 minutes, and what Jake Roberts and Scott Hall are doing is confronting their own lack of self worth, so maybe that’s the point. It should also be said that it must be incredibly frustrating to live with an addict, and this certainly depicts that frustration. Still, I can assure you two things: by the end of this documentary, you will be sick of hearing the word “bro,” and you WILL believe a man can cry.
Of course, the intention of the documentary first and foremost is to present a fly-on-the-wall look at the difficult recovery of an addict, not to win technical awards. Yet packaging and presentation are unfortunately very important in filmmaking, and this just can’t stand next to many of its documentary peers. None of that should take away from the overall presentation of the journey (and it really is a journey) Jake Roberts embarks on in this film…but it kind of does. This is the first film credit for filmmaker Steve Yu, who also contributes to the production and editing. With a crew that’s obviously incredibly small, I want to cut this documentary some slack for accomplishing what it does on an absolute shoestring. This is a true independent film, done with very limited resources, and I don’t think it would have had the same result if it had been more “produced.” While it does often feel like a reality show, it doesn’t have the scripted, fake aura that so many of them seem to share. Diamond Dallas Page definitely used YouTube and social media to hype the film, and the film unfortunately just never sheds that YouTube feel.