The Sheik tells the life and career of Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known by wrestling fans as the Iron Sheik.
The Sheik is one of those independent documentaries that we have seen more and more in recent years. The driving force behind them is a real affection and interest in the subject, by the filmmakers and is targeted to fans who share the same passion for it.
They’re made relatively cheap with the help of fundraising campaigns, they don’t come with a lot of dazzle, they don’t have much polish, but they explore their topic effectively with reverence and offer some insights into it.
The Sheik does that.
I was one of the millions who had watched wrestling during its heyday in the 80’s, so of course I knew who the Iron Sheik was, but had no idea of his background. So the film certainly clued me in on what a long interesting life the man has had. I really had no idea of any of his history before seeing him on WWF.
We follow the Iron Sheik’s history as a young wrestling champion in Iran, his move to the U.S. being a coach for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team. Seeing the old photos of him as a young man felt pretty startling. His genuine athletic talents are also talked about, another thing that I was never aware of.
Then of course the film covers his move into professional wrestling and creating the persona of his iconic villain – and how popular he became from it. With the Iran hostage crisis in the headlines, the Iron Sheik would personify the real life political situation in the ring to American fans. He was wrestlings greatest bad guy and drew more ‘heat’ and ire from fans than he ever expected. Arrogantly defeating opponents with his signature move ‘the camel clutch’ would raise the anger in the crowds even higher.
Thinking back when I used to watch wrestling, I can’t remember seeing anyone in the crowds holding up signs rooting for the Iron Sheik, wearing fake mustaches or wearing keffiyehs. I guess if you ever did that back then you would have been in hot water with the other wrestling fans. You were supposed to hate this bad guy. Buy his toy, ok sure, but cheer for him, never!
As with most stories our hero takes a fall, in the Sheik’s case it was in both his professional and personal life. At times the scenes are incredibly sad as we watch a drug addiction take hold of him and him becoming estranged from his family. It’s pretty honest stuff.
That’s probably the most memorable thing for me about the doc. Meeting the Sheik as a strong young man, moving to the U.S. having such an idyllic looking family and then in his older years pushing them away is heartbreaking to see.
The film ends with a revival of the Iron Sheik thanks to his outlandish, broken english tirades on Youtube and Twitter. There’s something of a happy ending for the man. Since watching this I am now going to follow his tweets.
It’s an entertaining documentary. It certainly held my interest and I learned a lot about the man. Most of it is told through talking head interviews, photographs and some archive footage. There’s not a lot of footage from his days in WWF though, I’m thinking that was due to a some rights issues.
Hearing the admiration and respect from some of his old and young wrestling colleagues is pretty interesting and drove home that the man behind the Iron Sheik was much more than just a colorful character to boo at.