Segunda Caida

Phil Schneider, Eric Ritz, Matt D, Sebastian, and other friends write about pro wrestling. Follow us @segundacaida

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Tuesday is French Catch Day: Finale

MD: It's a little more than three years since we started this particular project. I'm writing this close to three years from when the shutdowns began actually. It's hard to disentangle the two in my mind. Phil, of course, wrote a book. Eric is writing one. At times, I thought (and still think) that there might be a book about this trip through French Catch and how it provided me a weekly focus and an outlet and structure during the pandemic. It connected me to something bigger and older and stranger than myself, something that had been lost, something that consistently surprised and amazed while also being a thoroughly consistent comfort. My day job is too much of a day job, however, and most of the rest of my life is taken up by parenting. By the time I'll have time to actually write a book, it'll all be too distant from me to resonate in the same way. Let's close things out here instead.

Phil calls Cesca vs Catanzaro one of his greatest finds, he being someone who made his name from finding and curating and disseminating such things. I'm sure even then, he never imagined that some day we'd get hundreds of matches, most of which not seen for decades, surrounding and following that match. There have been great troves that have emerged this century. There was the NWA On Demand Houston footage which gave us top level arena matches for years where we barely had any. There was Buddy Rose's Portland collection, his own vanity spotlighting to us years later how a master (or at least a savant) could anchor a territory week after week. Roy's given us (second-hand) so much 90s lucha that we didn't have before. Armstrong Alley is the home to dusted off territorial oddities. New TV and Handhelds have come out of Japan and we're still going through those. And there's even what we'll be working on next (more on that later). We're coming up on five years straight, three matches a week, never missing a week, of New/Found Footage Friday.

This was something else entirely. It was an entire tradition of wrestling, an entire culture of it. It was a whole history of it, a lost city of gold. In one swoop we greatly expanded the amount of 50s wrestling we had on tape and absolutely eclipsed the 60s footage that was out there in the wild, and that's on a global level. That, in itself, would be impressive, but the actual content of what we received, the skill and intensity and humor and flair, the lost moves and moves that we had no idea existed decades before they were in vogue, the heroism and villainy and hard hitting sportsmanship, was nothing we could have expected. Certainly Catanzaro vs Cesca had an outlier in all of wrestling history, let alone in the wrestling of one single country? But what we found early on, especially after switched from cherry picking to following a more chronological approach, was the exact opposite. This was the entire history of wrestling of a single country, yes, but the sheer week to week quality, and, surprisingly, the week to week variety, was simply remarkable.

There was so much to every match; these were the long matches that European denizens like Regal would speak of. They were structurally alien, with wrestlers working holds for three or four or five minutes at a time, building and building to an escape only to have it cut off, with it taking a number of these false escapes before freedom was obtained; and after freedom, it'd be almost right into the next hold. While things might be elaborate, nothing felt collaborative. Even in stylist vs stylist matches, ones wrestled with every bit of honor and regard, things would boil over into brutal forearms, only to sink back down into the next set of holds. In tags, very often the holds were the point, the heat incidental, the comebacks frequent and rousing. The point was generally to entertain and captivate, not to draw future houses or pay off old grievances. Things settled down a bit more as the decades went on, and you'd get more of a coherent (or at least recognizable and familiar) story within a match, but it never fully escaped its roots. Languages were always my academic weak point; you can't bullshit language like you can an essay or an argument or pro wrestling analysis. I survived as well as I did with YouTube's subtitle functions and automatic translation. But to watch these matches, I had to learn an entirely different pro wrestling language, not unlike when I was first trying to make sense of lucha. Once you become fluent, however, you can swim through any match from the collection.

I thought about writing a paragraph listing specific wrestlers, but there are just too many. I could write three paragraphs on Jean Corne or Jacky Corn, on Gilbert LeDuc or Guy Mercier. I could write an essay on Bollet and Delaporte, on Bernaert or Duranton, on Petit Prince and Vasilious Mantopolous and Michel Saulnier. We have three matches with Liano Pellacani and two with Tony Oliver and a handful of Modesto Aledo (sans gimmick). We have matches with wrestlers like Al Hayes or Eric Taylor or Klondike Bill that UK fans couldn't have possibly hoped for. We have a glimpse of Kiyomigawa and Juil Gon Don. We received new matches from wrestlers we knew were great like Lasartesse and Van Buyten. And the characters! There were characters like Quasimodo and Batman and yes, Mombo Le Primitif. There are wrestlers that I watched a lot of in 2020 like Ami Sola and Jo Labat that feel almost like distant memories to me because of all of the sheer hours that I watched since. But everyone, from the Teddy Boys to Les Blousons Noirs to Isha Israel to Isha Khan to Dr. Adolf Kaiser and Cheri Bibi all brought something worthwhile to the table. Even the most out there gimmicks like King Kong Taverne still had to know how to do the up and over escape out of a top wristlock which was the cornerstone of opening French Catch chain wrestling (and how can you watch a mundane top wristlock escape in 2023 after seeing that in almost every match for decades!)

So as there'll be no book, and as there are more wrestlers then we could ever realistically cover one by one, the work we've laid down will have to stand on its own. I hope it lasts as a resource for people as they try to tackle the matches on their own. I tried to be more informative and useful than sharply critical, tried to point out what was novel or interesting about the matches, what was new and innovative from week to week and month to month and year to year, tried to point out patterns and trends, tried to craft an overall narrative as best I could. A new bit of video production was as interesting to me as the first time I saw a gutwrench suplex. I'll update the master list and in the weeks and months to come, I'll make a third list for everyone, one that is purely chronological, which will link to the reviews (and so long as the channel doesn't get nuked, the matches). From there, over time, we may fill in some gaps of matches that were online but not in the collection. In the meantime, keep going back through. Keep making gifs. Keep spreading the word. Whenever people post Luna Catch 2000 as if it's the be all and end all of French Catch, remind them that it was an exhibition and an outlier! (You don't have to but, come on, internet....)

I know from the views here and on YouTube that there are people who have come along on this journey with us from the very beginning. There have been a few of you who have commented over time, and that's meant a lot. Like I said, much of this was during the height of the pandemic and I always appreciated every bit of interaction that we had through this project. Thanks to those who helped with a few names and translation and for those, like Phil Lions, who have done amazing research. Thanks to those who made sure that the footage got back to some of the wrestlers and their families. I heard from at least a dozen families throughout this project, people who could see their grandfathers wrestle for the first time ever, or see their fathers or uncles wrestle for the first time in decades. Every message like that was incredibly rewarding. It's great to see current wrestlers liking or retweeting spots that people post on Twitter. There's so much to delve into here, so much lost lore and technique, that I hope some of it comes back to life in the years to come. Thank you to everyone that's even just checked in and read the reviews and of course for Phil, Eric, and Sebastian for joining in when they could. It's been a lot of work but I've never felt alone in it, even covering those years where, due to the constraints of life and new projects, I had to tackle the reviews on my own.

Which leads us to what's next. While we've been covering (and posting) this footage, there's another weekly footage drop on YouTube that's been happening in the last few months. It's not France. It's not from the 50s and 60s. It's an entirely different style and feel, but it's a territory all its own, with some familiar faces and some faces to learn about. You can probably guess if you've been paying attention to the Found Footage Friday posts from the last year or two, but I'll be back next week with a new partner and a new mission and hopefully everyone finds that fun as well.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing post Matt and congratulations on finishing an epic and special project. It's been a joy to read and watch along, and your post has me inspired to go back and revisit even more. And of course follow along with your next project. Cheers and all the best to you.

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah I made sure to check in every week to see what else has been unearthed, this whole project was so very neat. If I could make one request as a sort of wrap up for it, a sort of "10 matches you should watch to get a feel for French Catch" list to link around to basically work as an intro/primer/syllabus that covers the whole timespan of the footage would probably be a useful starting point for those who find this interesting but are a bit overwhelmed by how much of it there is.

12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s been magnifique. Merci bien, Mon ami

2:30 AM  
Anonymous Phil Lions said...

As someone who has been reading the French catch reviews since day one, I would just like to say thank you! This was an amazing series that not only was always entertaining to read, but it was also a series of reviews that felt important. French catch has always been such an underrated part of wrestling history, and it still is to an extent, and your work has opened up a lot of people's eyes to it. So many cool wrestlers and matches were spotlighted during this project, it's almost unbelievable. You've mentioned a lot of the names in the post above, and I'm sitting here now and could name another dozen names that I feel are worthwhile checking out too, for one reason or another. There's just an incredible amount of depth to this footage. So again, thank you for taking it upon yourselves to introduce this footage to the world!

Also, I'll echo the idea above - I too would like to see some sort of a "this is what French catch is" top 10 or something. I think a list like that would be a great jumping point for someone new to the style.

3:42 AM  
Blogger brock1123 said...

So very thankful for these broadened horizons. Can't wait for what's next.

7:06 PM  

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