You Cannot Kill David Arquette (David Darg and Price James, 2020) – Fantasia International Film Festival

FROM STUMBLING TO RUMBLING!

Branded as the most hated man in professional wrestling after winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in 2000, actor David Arquette attempts a rocky return to the sport that stalled his promising Hollywood career. Despite having two stents in his heart, being under treatment for depression and anxiety, and exhibiting functioning alcoholism, the 47 year-old actor dangerously commits himself reclaiming his self-respect in the squared circle. Arquette’s journey takes him to the backyards of amateur wrestling in Virginia, the fast-paced style of Tijuana’s lucha libre shows, and near-fatal hardcore deathmatches. Along the way, he puts his health, his credibility, and his marriage on the line, but Arquette’s determination to earn a respected place in the world of pro-wrestling cannot be denied.

Part car-wreck, part inspirational Rocky-docky, You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a fascinating look into the closed world of pro-wrestling and a portrait of the physical toll and unbridled passion required to perform in its peculiar brand of theatre. Appearing alongside David Arquette are his wife/producer Christina McLarty Arquette, his siblings Patricia, Rosanna, and Richmond, his ex-wife Courtney Cox, and wrestling legends including Ric Flair and Diamond Dallas Page.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Two feature-length audio commentaries, one with directors David Darg and Price James and one with David Arquette and Christina McLarty Arquette
  • Full matches between David Arquette and Nick Gage, RJ City, Mr. Anderson, Jungle Boy, and others, with introductions and alternate commentaries by Arquette and City
  • Outtakes and extended interviews
  • This is the End, a new interview with wrestling historian Dave Meltzer on David Arquette’s reign as WCW Heavyweight Champion
  • New video tribute to the song “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” by The Black Math Experiment
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by wrestling critic Andy Murray

Looking back, 1996 was an amazing time. Oprah started her book club, the first Tickle Me Elmo was released, the Macarena became a global hit, and Pokemon were introduced to the world. David Arquette was an up and coming actor, rubbing shoulders on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matthew McConaughey, Will Smith, and Benicio Del Toro, and World Championship Wrestling was challenging and beating the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) in the ratings thanks to the shocking turn of Hulk Hogan from all-American hero to contemptible villain. “Hollywood Hulk Hogan” led an upstart and anarchic faction, the New World Order (or nWo), one that pushed the WWF into its more violent and controversial Attitude Era and ushered in the Monday Night Wars where WCW and WWF fought weekly for the hearts and minds of millions and millions of wrestling fans glued to their TV sets. And while it was possible to imagine that the success of Arquette and WCW might come to an end, few would have ever predicted their mutual connection just four years later.

Cracks in the WCW empire were showing by 1998 with the nWo becoming creatively stale, controversies arising behind the scenes with match bookings, and the introduction of a second television show that threatened to burn out fans. WCW’s credibility was damaged in January 1999 when Hogan won the title by a mere fingerpoke (the “Fingerpoke of Doom”) and by the end of the year, WCW saw significant changes in creative control and noteworthy talent defections. For many, the nadir of WCW’s decline arrived in the form of David Arquette and his 2000 pro-wrestling comedy Ready to Rumble (Brian Robbins). With the movie already weeks into failing in theatres, longtime wrestling fan Arquette was sent to WCW to cross-promote the film. Originally, Arquette was meant to only take a bump from Jeff Jarrett and then get saved by Diamond Dallas Page, setting up a feud between the two wrestlers, but the crowd reaction to Arquette was enough to have him return the following week and win the WCW Heavyweight Title. WCW had previously booked celebrities like NBA players Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone and comedian/late-night talk show host Jay Leno and had seen correlating boosts to their ratings, however the promotion had never gone so far as to put their top title around any of their waists. Doing so with Arquette was a bridge too far for wrestling fans and his 12-day championship run turned fans against the promotion and the actor. In less than a year, WCW was purchased by the WWF.

Over the last two decades, David Arquette has worked steadily as an actor, although it has hardly reflected the promise of that Vanity Fair cover. Arquette blames getting typecast by the Scream franchise as a goofball and he acknowledges the damage of his getting “weird” in public, but it is his foray in pro-wrestling that the actor cites as the last straw. Some comfort could be taken by the actor if his connection to wrestling was a positive one, but Arquette’s 12-day run as WCW champion left him being the most hated man in the industry, subject to abuse and scorn from fans whenever he appeared at an event. For the wrestling faithful, Arquette is the undeserving Hollywood star who killed the glory days of the business by destroying the integrity of kayfabe (the fictional reality of pro-wrestling presented to fans) — never mind that Arquette didn’t want to hold the championship and that the decision was made by WCW bookers and execs.

Such is the context of You Cannot Kill David Arquette, a documentary about the actor’s quest to return to the world of professional wrestling and to re-write his legacy both as an in-ring performer and as a man. Early on, Arquette still resembles the boyishly lovable ingenue seated on that Vanity Fair cover but there is now an air of defeat around him. He’s greying, paunchy, and looks like he’s been put through the mill more than a few times. He has two stents in his heart (a stress test gone wrong), suffers from addiction, and is under medical treatment for anxiety and depression. His desire to clear his name with pro-wrestling is on the one hand a flight of fancy, fittingly expressed by Arquette as he stares toward the setting sun while vaping atop a horse and wrapped in a wizard’s cloak. His plan resembles a child’s desire to run off with the circus (notwithstanding the presence of his beautiful and successful wife Christina McLarty Arquette (also a producer on the film), his loving children, and his comfortable home), yet it also seems like something oddly manageable, a forum not barred by casting agents and made up of other unusual performers with similar struggles. What it is most certainly not is easy.

Documenting Arquette’s journey are David Darg and Price James, who split responsibilities for drama and comedy respectively. Like modern day Robert Flahertys filming Nanook of the North (1922), Darg and Price stage many of Arquette’s rites of passage into the world of professional wrestling. It is the filmmakers who book David Arquette into the hardcore chaos of the Virginia backyard wrestling scene, duped into expecting 50 to 100 people at a scheduled event and finding only six actually in attendance, then obliged to film Arquette get waffled with chairs and dropped onto thumbtacks by wrestlers taking their historical grudges out on him in brutal fashion. It is Darg and Price who also send Arquette to Tijuana, Mexico for a brush with lucha libre, leading him to unexpectedly wrestle against professional luchadors on the street and collect cash from stopped motorists. And when Diamond Dallas Page arrives in the film as some shamanic figure of wrestling wisdom and personal longevity, it more than verges on shameless hucksterism for Page’s popular DDP Yoga program. The uneasy line between fact and fiction drawn by YCKDA is no condemnation of it as a documentary. Rather, it cleverly acknowledges that this distinction is part of what makes the documentary form fascinating and that nowhere is the division between reality and fantasy more engaging than in professional wrestling.

Nowadays, the staged nature of pro-wrestling is acknowledged. It is often said that the endings are predetermined, but the “work” in the ring is real. Matches present faked conflicts through sometimes choreographed, often improvised physical exchanges, but the athleticism and the injuries are very real. Prior to the latter half of the 1990s, wrestling operated by a kind of gentleman’s agreement with its fans. Pro-wrestling preserved the appearance of kayfabe at all costs (just ask John Stossel) and fans suspended their disbelief. Babyfaces and heels (good guys and bad guys) didn’t associate outside of the ring and wrestlers wore casts and walked on crutches in their private lives to preserve the appearance of fictional injuries. Those days ended after events like the 1996 Kliq Curtain Call (when a collection of WWF faces and heels broke character at Madison Square Garden in a farewell gesture to some of them leaving for WCW) and the 1997 Montreal Screwjob (where Bret “The Hitman” Hart lost his championship in a match due to the manipulations of WWF owner Vince McMahon and contrary to the result Hart expected while performing). Fast forward 20 plus years and the pretense of kayfabe is openly understood by fans and wrestlers alike and the theatrical nature of its drama is exploited with greater effect, sometimes leading to outlandish, but highly entertaining ideas like invisible opponents, invisible hand grenades, slow motion sequences, musical steak dinners, or that time when the greatest wrestler in the world fought a nine year-old girl (apologies to purists like Jim Cornette — not really).

The documentary, like wrestling itself, isn’t “fake.” Both are orchestrated yet impactful; it’s just that the true impact isn’t exactly what’s seen in the ring. YCKDA condenses Arquette paying his industry dues by working through various wrestling circuits, but the point is more about collecting credibility, not wins, and surviving that process (both in the ring and out). Arquette’s various medical conditions mean that the documentary frequently finds itself in doctor’s offices to discuss his health and a filmed ketamine treatment is particularly harrowing as Arquette reacts with a frightening amount of stress and confusion. His trip to Tijuana leaves doctor’s wondering if he was hit by a car, a horrendous mouse swells on his head after a Championship Wrestling from Hollywood match, and a terrifying cut to his neck during a deathmatch with Nick Gage results in him racing to a nearby emergency room. As David Ehrlich notes, “Not only does it seem like you can kill David Arquette, it also seems like he might die at any moment. …. it’s hard not to worry that you might be watching the sweetest snuff film ever made.”

Arquette’s efforts to become a legitimate pro-wrestler does have positive effects (he loses 50 lbs. and quits smoking and drinking) but the overall toll causes his wife, Christina McLarty Arquette, to directly question if he has a death wish. During interviews promoting the film, McLarty Arquette is open about how near the couple was to divorce during the latter portion of the documentary where injuries increase in severity and David spirals notably downward following the death of his close friend Luke Perry. Still, like all white meat babyface wrestling heroes, David Arquette must ultimately succeed and YCKDA isn’t above generating some fake heat in its final crescendo by selling a sudden grudge match between Arquette and a very intense Mr. Anderson. SPOILER ALERT – the good guy wins.

With the recent appearance of The El Duce Tapes (David Lawrence, Ryan Sexton, and Rodney Ascher, 2019) on the Arrow Player, there is some precedent to Arrow Video releasing a documentary as a stand-alone release (as opposed to one merely in support of a feature film). Few things are as cultish as professional wrestling and so You Cannot Kill David Arquette seems like a natural choice for cult cinema’s standard bearer. This documentary is loaded with jacked-up action heroes, death-defying stunts, drug-induced madness, and plenty of bodily trauma. That alone could make YCKDA a worthy candidate for an Arrow Video treatment but the documentary is also a love letter to pro-wrestling, a tribute to the importance of family and mental health, and wonderful second act to an American life (and one conveniently connected to one of horror’s iconic franchises). You Cannot Kill David Arquette surely has a bounty of special features waiting to be revealed and an Arrow Video edition would be the perfect vehicle to fully elaborate on Arquette’s two year-long journey. MMC! doesn’t need two out of three falls to figure out that this doc is an AV winner!

Credits: With no hard media release of You Cannot Killl David Arquette, the special features of this proposed Arrow Video edition have been entirely imagined here. We’ve supposed the usual commentaries and alternate scenes and have included matches with introductions and commentaries by Arquette and his friend/rival RJ City as the two have a very fun dynamic which would greatly benefit this release. Arquette describes them as being akin to Laurel and Hardy, while City suggests their relationship bears greater resemblance to Charles Grodin and Martin Short in Clifford. A survey of modern wrestling history by Dave Meltzer was included as Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter and his match ratings have become fixtures of the industry and as Meltzer’s appreciation of wrestling in its modern form distinguishes him from some other prominent critics/historians. Andy Murray of WhatCulture Wresting was chosen to provide an essay as Arrow Video naturally tends toward British-based content providers and as Murray prepared the site’s summary of the film.

This post was particularly informed by Q&As with the Fantasia International Film Festival and Pro Wrestling Sheet. Credit is also owed to reviews by David Erlich for IndieWireOwen Gleiberman for VarietyTyler Hersko for IndieWire, Adam Patterson for Film Pulse, Nick Allen for RogerEbert.com, Richard Roeper for The Chicago Sun-Times, Gregory Lawrence for ColliderAndrew Parker for The GATE, and Dean Reilly at Bodyslam.net. Finally, we recommend interviews with David Arquette by Joe Deckelmeier for Screen Rant, Gabriel Sigler for Bad Feeling Magazine, and Michelle Swope for Dread Central.

Once again, big thanks to the Fantasia International Film Festival which screened You Cannot Kill David Arquette as part of its 2020 program. For those who missed it at Fantasia and can’t wait for this (or any) hard media release, YCKDA is currently available on VOD. MMC! isn’t done with this year’s Fantasia yet. Our next proposed edition will imagine an Arrow Video edition to a film from Fantasia’s Classics section and which lacks an English language hard media edition. So start packing your bags for MMC!’s last imagined edition from the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival!

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