Friday, April 13, 2007

Lovestruck: Wrestling's No. 1 Fan, by George Palathingal - The Sydney Morning Herald - 5th April 2007

A portrait of an otherwise ordinary Melbourne woman whose devotion to the sport has had a profound effect on every aspect of her life.

Before non-fans of wrestling shift their attention elsewhere, it is important to note that this documentary is not really about that most ludicrous excuse for a sport. At its big heart, and as a more careful look at its title says, Lovestruck: Wrestling's No. 1 Fan is a portrait of an otherwise ordinary Melbourne woman whose devotion to the sport has had a profound effect on pretty much every aspect of her life.

Sue Chuter was in her 40s when the director Megan Spencer met her, by chance, in the mid-1990s. This was before Spencer acquired a certain level of fame as the eloquent, passionate film critic on Triple J and on SBS's revamped but ill-fated The Movie Show. Some might think Spencer's career may have added to the time it could have taken to make this film, but the 10 years following Chuter around quickly prove the key to her tale.

Chuter is, as you'd hope, a fascinating human being. Her diminutive stature, underdog aura and lack of glamour and pretension immediately draw you to her, along with her unmissable natural quirkiness. (One of the film's funniest, and most startling, moments involves a young wrestling fan apparently wearing the wrong T-shirt.)

We spend parts of the film meeting many of her wrestling heroes, as she makes numerous trips exclusively to see them all over the country and, via Chuter's own video diary, around the United States. However, it speaks volumes about her that these colourful, extravagantly named and dressed beefcakes are rarely as interesting as she is - especially when the film gets personal. The look into her life outside wrestling, especially at her relationships with friends and family, not only ensures she doesn't come across as some one-dimensional stereotype, but it also gives the film an important emotional centre.

With Lovestruck: Wrestling's No. 1 Fan, Spencer has put together a classy, insightful doco. The gorgeous title sequence over archival wrestling footage (courtesy of her Movie Show alumnus Marc Fennell), Philip Brophy's alternately moody and tender desert-country soundtrack, and Spencer's astute interviewing and real interest in her subject, are each as impressive as those seen or heard in more celebrated documentaries. But there are flaws, too.

As is often the case with dedicated fans of anything, viewers may have liked to know how Chuter can afford to indulge her obsession to such a degree, which brings us to a more obvious shortcoming - "short" being the operative part of the word. At 52 minutes, there was clearly time to at least mention the subject's financial situation and maybe expand on, or talk about, other things, but the film seems to come to an abrupt halt.

That said, when too many films seem to be half an hour longer than they need to be, maybe time isn't really an issue. On the whole, Spencer does justice to Chuter's story, packing in lots of compelling stuff without giving viewers a chance to get bored.