Santino Marella recently announced his retirement from in-ring action due to sustaining yet another debilitating neck-injury.
After reading a post on Mick Foley's Facebook about Marella, I discovered the following video of a great Battle Royale moment in Santino's career.
This one-minute video is one of the best representations of pro-wrestling as theater that I've ever seen.
Typically, unless we attend the live events themselves, fans experience the WWE as a very meticulously edited television show. In that editing process, the live event is transformed from an organic, theatrical experience, into a purposeful narrative, highlighting specific moments, accentuating spots with quick zooms, quick cuts, and commentary - focusing the audience's attention and perception.
That process is essential to the television experience, but it does detract from the theatricality and live-performance-art-quality of a pro-wrestling show.
In the above video, the single-camera perspective permits one to observe a series of emotions in a pure and complete way.
First, we are treated to the Santino Marella character puffing his chest, approaching John Cena and Triple H. He undermines their bravado, as if reminding those characters that they too exist in an absurd world, a world where men and women leap off of ropes whilst wearing their underwear. The structure of a Battle Royale permits this fusion of the sincere and the absurd in a wonderful, comedic, and uplifting way that assists all characters in defining their place in a brief, but excellent story.
The crowd mimics our emotions, delighting in Santino's small triumphs; first his exaggerated approach and then his rebound off the ropes (an unexpected turn as Santino is typically the sort of character to immediately get tossed out of a Battle Royal). We find ourselves cheering him on because he's a buffoonish, and simultaneously heartwarming character - he displays effort and resolve in the face of insurmountable odds. At first.
The crowd, having been warmed up after a few amusing exchanges, is finally treated to a rewarding finale - Santino's acceptance that he cannot exist any longer in the world of men like Triple H and John Cena, and his tossing himself out.
Apart from his excellent miming of being thrown out of a Battle Royale, what makes this moment not just funny, but emotionally rewarding, is that Santino took matters into his own hands. This is a triumph for the character, in an ironic way, and certainly a triumph for the performer, who pops the crowd several times, each response increasingly uproarious.
And then, after his exit, thanks to this single-camera perspective and the viewer's ability to choose what they see, a natural transition into the dramatic and more serious back and forth between Triple H, John Cena, and the remaining wrestlers continues. Each of those performers is due praise as well, for they supported Santino's big moment, and their immediate return to serious brawling accentuates the juxtaposition, taking the audience into a new emotional high as Cena and Triple H initiate and counter their finishing moves.
The audience's emotions sway like a pendulum, keeping time with the actions of these excellent performers.
This is athletic theater at its finest. This is Santino Marella at his best.
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All unsourced photos via WWE.com and WWE Network screen-capture.