Exquisite Mayhem by Mike Kelley, Cameron Jamie & Theo Ehret

October 9, 2019

This will likely be the strangest book we review at Pro Wrestling Books. It’s an absolutely enormous 480-page coffee-table book (listed at 14.6 x 11.7 x 1.6 inches and nine pounds) made up of three types of material.

Of most interest to readers here will be the extensive collection of wrestling photographs by Theo Ehtret who spent many years as a photographer in the Los Angeles territory, specifically shooting at the famed Olympic Auditorium. There are posed and action shots of most of the stars from the 1970s including some truly beautiful double-page spreads of the Auditorium and other local venues.

However, the book contains just as much from Ehtret’s other photography role, producing shots of apartment wrestling in which women appear to have decided to resolve their differences by fighting in their home wearing little or no clothing. While it’s likely that a high proportion of those interested in pro wrestling will have no objection to looking at such images, the big problem is that the two are interspersed seemingly at random rather than in distinct sections. Pick any random spread and you stand a good chance of seeing a juxtaposition that puts one in mind of the 2000 US Presidential face-off.

The text of the book is limited to a brief interview with Ehtret and a reproduction of Roland Barthes’s essay on wrestling from his book Mythologies. It’s the best known academic commentary on pro wrestling’s portrayal of the dramatic battle between good and evil and frequently cited in later studies, though like so much in its field seems to completely miss the point that wrestling bouts are predominately staged in order to make a profit.

The book certainly falls into the category of collectable rather than must-read. It generally goes for $50 or more, though if you do spot it at a bargain price online (or be tempted to offload your own copy), be aware the postage costs are likely to be substantial.

(2019 note: The price has fallen significantly thanks to a reprint, with new copies available for around $30.)

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