For most amateur wrestling fans, what we know about the movie “Foxcatcher” is limited to what we’ve read, and from the previews we’ve watched, since the much-anticipated film has yet to come to a theater near us. By contrast, former amateur wrestling coach Dennis Damm has seen the film – and had in-person encounters with John du Pont, the millionaire owner of the Foxcatcher wrestling training facility – and has shared his insights exclusively with College Wrestling Examiner Friday.
First, a bit of background. Damm, who now lives in New Jersey, is a friend of this writer… and counts among his friends the three freestyle wrestlers who won gold medals for the US at the 1960 Rome Olympics: the late Terry McCann and Doug Blubaugh, as well as the surviving member of that trio, Shelby Wilson, who now resides in Bloomington, Ind. Damm can also claim to have spent time in the company of du Pont. “I met Mr. du Pont on three separate occasions,” Damm told College Wrestling Examiner. “In fact, I took video of the regional trials in Philadelphia and ironically have a segment with du Pont and Dave Schultz talking on the side of the gymnasium. Who could have known…”
“I should mention that several years earlier, when I spoke with du Pont at the 1987 World Freestyle Championships in Clermont-Ferrand, France, I noticed that he was disoriented, his eyes glassy, and his speech almost incoherent. I suspected that he was under some type of drug. Also, along with his sweatsuit, he was wearing fluffy, floppy bedroom slippers which caused smirks and snickers from many people in attendance. Frankly, I was not amused, only saddened. Although the film contains a major scene from the 1987 Championships, it does not show du Pont as I saw him then.”
“Naturally, since I was personally connected with amateur wrestling during the actual time of the Foxcatcher events, and knew a few of those involved, the movie held for me a very special meaning,” said Damm. “Simultaneously, my knowledge of certain people and occurrences made the movie even more painful to watch, and left me so shaken, that I could not immediately leave my theater seat until the other spectators had departed.”
“Overall, my assessment of the film must be stated with words like ‘brilliant’ and ‘superb’. The same applies to the actors. Steve Carell IS John du Pont. Channing Tatum is absolutely magnificent as Mark Schultz. If both actors are nominated for Best Actor awards, it will be a tough decision to pick a winner. Surprisingly, the murder victim, Dave Schultz, is not a major character in the movie. Instead, the story concentrates on the relationship between John du Pont and Mark. The sad relationship between du Pont and his overbearing mother (played by Vanessa Redgrave) is also extremely important and portrayed in a sympathetic manner.”
“The depiction of the murder where Dave Schultz is shot is of course chilling and depressing,” Damm continued. “Nevertheless, I would still recommend this film highly, especially to those of my age group who were contemporaries of those involved.”
“Foxcatcher” has been in the works for approximately eight years, and on the radar of amateur wrestling fans for three. Although Foxcatcher Farms was located outside Philadelphia, most of the filming took place in the Pittsburgh area nearly two years ago. (In the years since du Pont murdered Dave Schultz on the estate grounds in January 1996, the du Pont mansion had been bulldozed, and the 800-acre site is now being developed into a community of upscale townhomes and freestanding homes.) A number of current and former amateur wrestlers were involved in the filming of “Foxcatcher”, either as consultants involved in the training of the actors and choreography of wrestling scenes, or cast as either opponents for the Schultz brothers, or as fellow Foxcatcher wrestlers. Adding to the authenticity: at least one of the referees in the movie is played by Fred Feeney, a real-life mat official based in the Columbus area… and former USA Wrestling executive director Dave Miller portrays himself in the movie.
“Foxcatcher” was originally slated to open in December 2013, but was pulled from the schedule at the last minute for additional editing, bringing what had been a three-hour movie down to 2 hours, 15 minutes. The newly edited version had its world premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France in May 2014. It was greeted with a standing ovation, and Bennett Miller was presented with Best Director honors. “Foxcatcher” is now in limited release in select cities around the US and Canada; the studio is employing a slow roll-out strategy often used with movies considered to be Oscar-worthy. A number of film critics have cited Carell, Tatum and Mark Ruffalo (who plays Dave Schultz) for possible Best Actor nominations, as well as Miller for Best Director honors.