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Sue Chuter with Bulldog, Lovestruck Sue Chuter with Bulldog, Lovestruck
photo Eron Sheean
THE SILVER SCREEN GLOW OF 1960S WRESTLING FOOTAGE, THE ELEGANT RASP OF JACK LITTLE’S COMMENTARY (A GRAHAM KENNEDY ERA CHANNEL 9 STALWART OF US ORIGIN) AND PHILIP BROPHY’S REFLECTIVE SCORE (RECASTING THE LYRICAL GUITAR STYLE OF DUANE EDDY, THE SHADOWS ET AL FROM THE SAME PERIOD) PROVIDE AN IMMERSIVE OPENING TO MEGAN SPENCER’S 52-MINUTE DOCUMENTARY WHICH PREMIERED AT THE PERTH AND MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS IN 2006, AND IS NOW ENJOYING CINEMA RELEASE.

Watching wrestling wasn’t my thing as a kid—there was a short-lived foray into stock cars and motor bike racing at Adelaide’s Rowley Park—but Megan Spencer’s Lovestruck about one woman’s proud, obsessive fandom for American wrestlers certainly begins with a subtly nostalgic arm-twister, a certain distance created by holding back the crowd noise and allowing the guitars to drift dreamily alongside the theatricalised violence...But then we’re plunged into the world of Sue Chuter, the images raw, handheld, immediate and interspersed with wrestling footage.

We see Chuter at home with friends: the subject, her wrestling obsession. “I’m the craziest of the bloody lot.” Later we’ll take in more of the house: wall to wall wrestling clippings, photographs and posters in every room including the toilet. Asked about having access to the phone numbers of her American heroes Chuter asserts: “it’s a personal relationship...I’m not just a fan.” It’s this that becomes a Lovestruck theme: just how meaningful is Chuter’s connection with these famous men. But first cut to Mick Foley being brutalised with barbed wire in a TWA Japan broadcast match (part of her voluminous watching, seen here with a large group of friends). Cut to Chuter phoning birthday wishes to her ‘king’, the American Jerry Lawler, former champion and now commentator and writer. A message machine responds. Spencer asks if the wrestlers ever call back. Chuter chortles, “No! I’d totally freak out!”

Chuter is revealed to be a successful fan: yes, she too must on occasion queue for autographs, but the champions mostly recognise her, are often affectionate and Lawler announces her presence to the match crowd. This fandom is a totality and, for all its gutsiness, an almost atherial lifestyle—how Chuter can afford it (including a trip to the US, investment in memorabilia), whether or not she works, these are not addressed Spencer compounding a sense of a self-contained world. But there are many fascinating, palpable details.

We glimpse Chuter at a small local match, on her feet between the ring and the crowd, yelling. Later she’s in the ring and then hurling something at the crowd. These are the only moments we witness some of the aggression which must surely be part of her fandom. But Spencer leaves it at that while busily capturing the sweep of everyday wrestling life—and it’s often funny. We see Chuter at workouts, at press calls (mini-matches in themselves) wielding her own camera and at post match raps—the poetry of defiance and defeat. Old footage is inserted of a young, bloodied Playboy Gary Hart (“Sue once thought he was the only man she ever loved”) threatening to set his mother on his defiler. We learn too that in the 70s Sue became a ‘ring rat’, wrestling parlance for groupie. It’s not returned to, becoming subtext perhaps for the intimacy, albeit limited, she shares with some of her heroes.

As in many a documentary, from the clunky outpourings of the Biography Channel to the measured formulae of Australian Story, we’ve got a pretty good idea that in Lovestruck first up we’ll get a slice of the life, a solid impression of the subject before the voiceover or the intertitle anounces, “So and so was born in X on...” and the life narrative kicks in. Here it’s “1996 World Championship Wrestling, Festival Hall Melbourne, where it all began for Sue Chuter.” Second tack: something psychologically contrapuntal. Is Sue Chuter’s fandom, which she sees as providing ‘family’, a real life given that she lost her chance at actual family many years ago, leaving her daughter with the husband of a short-lived marriage? And with the commencement of the life story somewhat melancholy, aetherial female voices wordlessly chorus against rippling guitars.

The daughter, now 21 and with a child of her own, seeks out Sue (significantly it’s not the other way round) and there’s a happy enough reunion for several years. But now the film, and Chuter’s life, has entered a melancholy phase. Sue throws Rhonda a 21st birthday party, a happy occasion for the daughter, but Sue herself is emotional, largely detached from the other guests in the pub and mostly ignored, interrupted even, when she delivers her prepared, heartfelt birthday speech of reconciliation. This doesn’t feel like family. Rhonda believes her mother has immersed herself in wrestling as a substitute. We suspect otherwise: in the 1973 marriage her husband banned her from going to wrestling. Later it’s mentioned, without explanation, that Sue and Rhonda have separated again.

In the meantime, Sue’s been to America. We sit through her video of snowy Hartford, New York, Memphis etc, wondering why (a rare moment of repose perhaps) until she reaches LA, meets her always respectful heroes, all pictures of unbattered, glowing good health, and experiences her first WrestlingMania match, with a 16,000 strong crowd. It’s here we see another of Lovestruck’s ‘face in the crowd’ motifs. The image of the crowd darkens and a small circle of light wanders across the screen to pick out Sue. She’s well behind Lawler at his commentary desk, but as ever, very well placed for the big show. It’s a poignant if loaded moment—and we don’t know if it’s Spencer’s contrivance or Chuter’s own, given that the highlighting device is otherwise atypical of the film.

In the one sustained scene with a Chuter hero, we join Spencer and Sue at Melbourne airport to meet Jerry Lawler. There are repeated hugs, he seems genuinely affectionate, and prefers to see her as devoted rather than obsessed, but there’s clearly a limit to the time he can spend with her. She cries in Spencer’s arms. Is she momentarily overwhelmed or, as the film’s contruction hints, is there a limit to how much meaning fandom can offer? There’s the bouyant moment when Lawler singles her out at the match where she stands amidst the media mob, but soon we see Chuter married, this time to a UK wrestling fan. A compensatory act? Maybe, but he lives in the UK. They apparently keep in close touch by phone and text messaging.

Even though conventional family life has evaded Chuter, or she it, and a certain melancholy is sensed about the later years of her commitment to wrestling, Spencer is portraying a life still unfolding and it’s certainly one in which being a fan is, in the end, paramount. If there are complexities in Chuter’s personality, we don’t witness them. Her utterances about her life are blunt and, like wrestling lingo, doubtless oft repeated: “I’m rebellious in my own way...I’m eccentric....moreso since I met the wrestlers...otherwise I would have had a boring life...I like the blood and guts and the solidly built men...the wrestlers have a strong sex drive and they need comfort and companionship.” Lovestruck’s air of escalating pathos simply and effectively says that no state of being, be it fandom or fame, can completely satisfy, and is always subject to other forces. We are, however, left in no doubt about Chuter’s ongoing passion and we guess that she wouldn’t want us to feel sorry for her—as she adamantly declares earlier in the film when asked about the 1973 rape that was prelude to her marriage.

Asked about fandom, the late Vern Sundfors, an independent filmmaker whose footage is used in Lovestruck, comments in words to the effect that there’s not a lot to be said, but if it’s somewhere you “prosper in” and brings calm, that’s enough.


Lovestruck, director, camera, producer Megan Spencer, editor Julie-Anne De Ruvo, composer Philip Brophy, producer Rosemary Blight, RB Films, 2006

RealTime 79 will feature an interview with Megan Spencer, now director of Revelation, the Perth International Film Festival. Former director, Richard Sowada is moving to Melbourne’s ACMI.

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 20

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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