The very first words spoken by Adrian Street in this film sound like an in-character promo. By the film’s end, you’ll realize that there is no character, and that Street broke new ground as well as barriers because he was born to do just that.
With a tight focus on the life and career of Adrian Street in the 1960s and ’70s before he made his landing in the North American wrestling scene, and clocking in at a mean 72 minutes, the 2019 documentary You May Be Pretty, But I Am Beautiful: The Adrian Street Story has recently made its worldwide On Demand premiere. Director Joann Randles pieces together firsthand accounts from Street, testimonials from a number of workers in the wrestling business and Street’s family, and terrific classic footage of Street in action to create a film as multi-layered as the subject.
If you like, you can take it as a straight-forward biopic. If, however, you want to dig deeper, then there’s plenty to chew on, as well.
Going back to the beginning, “I was going to say I’m perfect, but the only thing that stopped me from being perfect is my modesty” is how Street introduces himself to the documentary audience, again in pitch-perfect arrogant heel character. It sounds polished and practised, and one would be forgiven at that moment for wondering if The Adrian Street Story was going to be as much an infomercial as anything else.
Even when this is accompanied by fond memories and praise of Street’s legacy are delivered by many, and most often by Mick Foley, Stu Bennett, and Adam Hassan, it feels perhaps a touch too celebratory. That changes when Street’s sister, Pamela Gordon, takes us way back to the beginning of young Adrian Street and his search for any way possible to stand out and break off from the norm. It becomes clear at this point that this isn’t a film about the making of a wrestling character, but of how a fortunate turn of events brought Street into a world where his natural talents and showmanship could shine.
Pamela details the life that was expected for her brother, being born to a coal miner in Wales meant that Street’s future was also underground. His dreams, however, lay elsewhere – anywhere but in the mines because, as he says in the film, he deserves a spotlight. An interest in bodybuilding led to modelling, and an exposure to wrestling cemented a goal that his father and fellow miners said in no uncertain terms was out of his reach due to his size.
Street ran away from home at the age of 16 with every intent of proving them all wrong.
One seeming loose end from the film is a sense of closure between Street and his family. Yes, he returned to the very Welsh mines in which he worked with his father for a famous photo-op (in full drag, no less), and Pamela speaks highly of what he has accomplished, but there’s no sense of what really happened in terms of reconciliation in the years after Street ran away from home.
The film then presents, without an on-the-nose explanation, an intriguing generational juxtaposition as Adrian Street Jr. looks back upon his father’s exploits. From the father, a coal miner, to the son with guitar in hand and a sleek rock n’ roll style about him, there can be no question that Street taught his son, either by way of words or actions, to explore an artistic side to life. Street Jr. admits that he became more proud of his dad as he himself grew up as, when he was younger, he just presumed that everyone got to do what they wanted to do in life.
In truth, of course, Adrian Street had to fight for what he wanted.
Hassan describes a bygone era of the protected wrestling business, where Street wouldn’t have gone to a school to learn as one would today. Instead, he would be “taught” by those looking to break anyone that came in to try, only permitting those that survived the indoctrination to join the club. Street amusingly recalls his first match as one where he thought he had put on a dazzlingly impressive performance, only to be chewed out for failing to provide any showmanship.
Clearly, that lesson stuck with him.
Bennett credits Street with bringing some flash and style to what was a very straightforward British wrestling scene. Foley calls him a paradox, being an androgynous figure who is very much a man. As we watch him skip around the wrestling ring, singing A Sweet Transvestite with a Broken Nose, we are witness to Street’s mentality of pushing ahead on a path full steam. Much is made throughout the film of his innovative behaviour and mannerisms. In truth, his promos, his interviewing, and especially his music videos are all early hints of the multi-faceted performance art that wrestling was to become in the 1980s and beyond.
His fellow wrestlers, however, would only urge him to tone it down or give up the theatrics altogether, suggesting to him that he didn’t need all of the showmanship since he was a good wrestler. This is where the film truly nails down the idea that Street wasn’t adding showmanship as a means to an end. He was, simply, a showman, and his flamboyant outfits, make-up, hairstyles, and mannerisms were simply how it manifested.
At the same time, Street reveals on a deep respect for the business and especially for those that pushed it forward. Once labelled “Nature Boy” by a Canadian journalist, Street knew that most of the British fans for whom he was performing didn’t know who Buddy Rogers was, yet he felt a responsibility to live up to high standards of the name. After pushing further and further forward instead of pulling back as was suggested to him, he grew into the moniker “Exotic,” which was a more fitting name for his own inimitable style.
The film offers brief forays into whether Street’s look inspired the glam rock movement in Britain. It certainly predated it, and it may have offered a path for Glam Rockers such as David Bowie, Mark Bolan of T. Rex, Elton John, and others. Street plays coy over whether this is accurate or not. He claims simply to have learned a lot of glam rock, as it did as well from him.
While Foley and others routinely return to a description of how Street’s outrageous actions belied his fearsome toughness as a wrestler, Street himself displays a seemingly duplicitous attitude towards how others saw him. On the one hand, he claimed to have no care of what fans jeered at him (as he states: “They were entitled to say what they like, I had their money in my pocket”) or how fellow workers wished to mould him into something more like themselves.
On the other hand, though, much of Street’s inspiration clearly comes from seeking to prove those that doubt him wrong, and an innate desire to turn right when told to go left. As Street’s arrival in North America looms, and therefore the focus of the film comes to a close, Street is warned, as he was at the age of 16, that the wrestlers are giants over there and that he is still too small to make it.
The cycle is destined to repeat, as Street and Miss Linda, who would work primarily as his valet – and they would eventually marry – accompanied him on his next mission to prove people dead wrong.
Along with the aforementioned lack of closure on Street’s family story, Miss Linda’s time on screen also seems oddly brief, though it’s in keeping with the timeline chosen for the film. Perhaps it’s not that the film doesn’t recognize her importance in his story, both professionally and personally, but more that she takes a step back and gives Adrian what he has sought for all those years since he seemed destined for the coal mines: a spotlight, big and bright and placed squarely on himself.
The film’s official Twitter account
You May Be Pretty, But I Am Beautiful: The Adrian Street Story (2019)
|Tag Line:||The Incredible True Story of a Wrestling Pioneer|
|Directed By:||Joann Randles|
|Written By:||Tim Pickett, Joann Randles|
|Featuring:||Adrian Street, Miss Linda, Mick Foley, Stu Bennett, Adam Hassan|
|Runtime:||1 hour and 12 minutes.|
ADRIAN STREET LINK
Slam Wrestling's Hollywood Headlock Rating Scale:
1: Unsafe Worker (Avoid!)
2: Pre-Show Performer
3: Mid-Card Material
4: Main Eventer
5: World Title Winner