Friday, April 13, 2007

On The Ropes, by Genevieve Swart - The Sydney Morning Herald - 13th April 2007

It took Megan Spencer 10 years to make Lovestruck: Wrestling's No. 1 Fan. The result is a documentary with a punch to the heart as skilfully executed as anything The Rock might deliver.

"It's full of wrestling and testosterone," the director says, "but it's almost like a legitimised chick flick for men because I've had men walking out at the end of the film just bawling their eyes out."

Best known for her role as a film critic on Triple J and SBS's The Movie Show, Spencer, 40, has come full circle with this documentary - from filmmaker to critic and back again. And not without some anxiety about how her latest effort will be received by the media.

"But all's fair in love and film criticism,'' she says, laughing.

Lovestruck is about obsession, fitting in and family. It stars Sue Chuter, a 55-year-old Melbourne fan who has spent 35 years cheering pro wrestlers, from Australian strongman Mario Milano to Memphis wrestler turned commentator Jerry "The King" Lawler.

Chuter has posters all over her home, more than 4000 wrestling videos and DVDs, has several big stars as friends and phones idols in the US to wish them happy birthday.

It's not Spencer's first foray into the world of obsessions - she also directed Heathens (1994), about St Kilda supporters, and Strange Hungers: Mistress Ursula (2001), about a dominatrix.

Spencer was working at a Melbourne CD store while studying media arts at the then Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1995 when Chuter walked in. It was "Lovestruck" at first sight.

"She was wearing a T-shirt with a big wrestler on the front of it and I just pointed at it and said, 'Who's that?' And it was bang, instant."

The next week, Spencer arrived at Chuter's house to start filming.

Chuter is aware some people regard her obsession as "weird" but describes herself as "eccentric", Spencer says.

"Sue is a highly devoted fan and wrestlers recognise that. Jerry Lawler certainly does. They value her friendship, her expertise and knowledge - and the fact she is the greatest ambassador for wrestling that has ever walked the planet."

Spencer has some insight into wrestlemania: at age four, she began watching World Championship Wrestling on Channel Nine. She also collected about 30 muscle-bound wrestling dolls.

Her 52-minute doco was cut from about 60 hours of footage filmed over a decade, as well as archival material.

Lovestruck screened at last year's Melbourne and Perth film festivals and is on at the Chauvel. And it's not just for wrestling fans, Spencer says.

"I think Sue's story is universal.

That's ultimately the role of documentary: to give us a window on people's lives who we think are different to us. In the end, the good ones show we're pretty much forged from the same cells."