The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

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NWK2000
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The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

Post by NWK2000 » May 13th, '19, 15:44

A lot of coverage has been given to the Montreal Screwjob, especially here lately with the Viceland episode of Darkside of the Ring about it. And why wouldn't it? It's one of the first events of WWF's boom period and one of the scummiest things ever done publicly to a wrestler. But what I think what gets overlooked in the historical overview is why it worked.

When I say "why it worked" I don't want that to be misconstrued as the literal version of that statement. The mechanics of how Vince managed to screw Bret have been done to death. What I mean is, what separates Montreal from every rehash of the angle? And one must look no further, than WWF television.

I want to use this opportunity to state that reviewing every Raw MIGHT have been the worst thing I've ever done for WR. It was impacting my ability to enjoy wrestling, as it was just a wash of dumb B-Movie gimmicks, inset promos, regular promos, and all sorts of other junk. But what was real, was Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart.

America was in a wacky period of time culturally. The moral nanny state of the Reagan 80s was giving way to the counter culture of the 90s, with the rest of the world still stuck in the past. One must look no further than the German Raw, where Bret Hart was still being cheered as he had been for the past four years, with edgier gimmicks wisely left off the show, gimmicks like The Nation of Domination. And while we were consuming racial unrest militant beliefs, and general malcontent with our morning cereal, the rest of the world was far less into watching turmoil like it was a ball game.

Bret Hart tapping into the rest of the world's view on the US is part only part of it. Hart reuniting his family into a faction of villains crusading for family values was only part of it. All those things were just extra sauce. What really made it is the conviction with which Bret expressed his hatred for not only Shawn Michaels, but the unrest plaguing his world. In the lead up to the infamous "This is Bullshit" promo, Bret was very clear that he felt "screwed" by any and all parties who didn't like him. In the lead up to Survivor Series he would whine and complain about whatever was bothering him (Shawn Michaels especially), and send his family after everyone else. I should point out as well that April 1997 to November 1997 is the span of about 7 months. This had build to it, just like an angle.

I'm not saying that Montreal was a work, only idiots would believe that. But what I'm saying is, in kayfabe, if you're a business owner, and your most marketable icon is a guy shitting on your core fanbase, why wouldn't you go out of your way to get rid of him, even if that meant handing the barn to prima donna Michaels, which would no doubt alienate tons of people?

That said, let's look at every other attempt at Montreal. The reason why 1998's Survivor Series conclusion worked was the sheer shock of it all. And that's what booker Vince Russo understood, shock. He didn't understand how the Montreal Screwjob fit into the culture of the time, the feelings of the performers involved, and how that all just so happened to fit as snugly into kayfabe as a Screwjob could (even if Vince didn't figure out couldn't put the circular peg in the square hole right away, and doing things right, turning himself heel just happened to work out from a narrative standpoint.). Vince Russo understood shock, and none of the nuance.

I want to thank everyone for reading. I know that this is the 90 millionth thing written on Montreal, and it's not the most concise, but I thought it was high time people compared it to other attempts at recreating it.


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Re: The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

Post by cero2k » May 14th, '19, 16:02

i'd say the main reason it worked was because everything else that followed was an obvious attempt to create controversy in what was now 100% clearly worked. This one being real kinda killed the rest that'd be fake. It's a weird thing about wrestling, when you fake something once, people won't believe the real ones that come next, and vice versa.

Bret vs Shawn was indeed an amazing feud, arguably top 3 in WWE history. I think that shoot or not, that title change was going to be big. They legit hated each other before and after the screwjob, and it showed in their promos.

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Re: The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

Post by NWK2000 » May 15th, '19, 08:11

cero2k wrote:
May 14th, '19, 16:02
i'd say the main reason it worked was because everything else that followed was an obvious attempt to create controversy in what was now 100% clearly worked. This one being real kinda killed the rest that'd be fake. It's a weird thing about wrestling, when you fake something once, people won't believe the real ones that come next, and vice versa.
That's true, and it obviously didn't help matters. But I think Vince Russo should be properly lambasted for being completely unable to build any kind of nuance into his big rehashes of Montreal (or any angle he ever did for that matter, but that's another story for another story.
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Re: The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

Post by Big Red Machine » May 15th, '19, 08:50

I'm not disagreeing with anything you guys have said about the real feeling being important and abo9ut why the others have failed, but I think Montreal "working" wasn't due to Montreal itself so much as the success of everything that came after it (and particularly its role in setting the stage for the Mr. McMahon character, which wasn't even part of the post-Montreal plan, as Vince thought people would see him as the babyface when he went on TV and said that "Bret screwed Bret" by not following the "time-honored tradition" of the business). I once heard someone (I think it was Cornette but I'm remember for sure) point out that as an actual "screwjob," Montreal was a huge failure, as the goal of a screwjob is to double-cross one of the participants without the fans ever realizing that something is amiss, which decidedly did not happen in Montreal.
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Re: The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

Post by NWK2000 » May 15th, '19, 10:25

Big Red Machine wrote:
May 15th, '19, 08:50
I'm not disagreeing with anything you guys have said about the real feeling being important and abo9ut why the others have failed, but I think Montreal "working" wasn't due to Montreal itself so much as the success of everything that came after it (and particularly its role in setting the stage for the Mr. McMahon character, which wasn't even part of the post-Montreal plan, as Vince thought people would see him as the babyface when he went on TV and said that "Bret screwed Bret" by not following the "time-honored tradition" of the business). I once heard someone (I think it was Cornette but I'm remember for sure) point out that as an actual "screwjob," Montreal was a huge failure, as the goal of a screwjob is to double-cross one of the participants without the fans ever realizing that something is amiss, which decidedly did not happen in Montreal.
If you compare Montreal to every other screwjob in wrestling, the minimal amount of hammering it into kayfabe they had to do is astounding. Like I said, Vince tried to come off as a babyface for a few weeks and then pivoted. But considering only one auxiliary character had to really change alignment, in comparison to say Starrcade 1999, which was a forced flip of the allignment chart on its ass, is pretty amazing, and an expert piece of warping kayfabe around reality.
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Re: The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

Post by Big Red Machine » May 15th, '19, 10:45

NWK2000 wrote:
May 15th, '19, 10:25
Big Red Machine wrote:
May 15th, '19, 08:50
I'm not disagreeing with anything you guys have said about the real feeling being important and abo9ut why the others have failed, but I think Montreal "working" wasn't due to Montreal itself so much as the success of everything that came after it (and particularly its role in setting the stage for the Mr. McMahon character, which wasn't even part of the post-Montreal plan, as Vince thought people would see him as the babyface when he went on TV and said that "Bret screwed Bret" by not following the "time-honored tradition" of the business). I once heard someone (I think it was Cornette but I'm remember for sure) point out that as an actual "screwjob," Montreal was a huge failure, as the goal of a screwjob is to double-cross one of the participants without the fans ever realizing that something is amiss, which decidedly did not happen in Montreal.
If you compare Montreal to every other screwjob in wrestling, the minimal amount of hammering it into kayfabe they had to do is astounding. Like I said, Vince tried to come off as a babyface for a few weeks and then pivoted. But considering only one auxiliary character had to really change alignment, in comparison to say Starrcade 1999, which was a forced flip of the allignment chart on its ass, is pretty amazing, and an expert piece of warping kayfabe around reality.
You're thinking of the wrong kind of screwjob. I'm talking a shoot screwjob like the Montreal biting incident or (for another poorly executed version, the Wendi Richter vs. Spider Lady match), which Montreal was but all that followed it were not. For Montreal to be understood they basically had to come out on the air and tell us everything was fake, because otherwise Bret wasn't doing anything wrong. If they had just gone straight into Vince as a heel and saying he screwed Bret because he didn't like him and then he fired Bret's useless old ass then that would be one thing, but you are ignoring a critical two-week period where they tried to make Vince (and the company) the babyfaces in this situation.
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Re: The Montreal Screwjob...and why it Worked

Post by NWK2000 » May 15th, '19, 10:57

Big Red Machine wrote:
May 15th, '19, 10:45
NWK2000 wrote:
May 15th, '19, 10:25
Big Red Machine wrote:
May 15th, '19, 08:50
I'm not disagreeing with anything you guys have said about the real feeling being important and abo9ut why the others have failed, but I think Montreal "working" wasn't due to Montreal itself so much as the success of everything that came after it (and particularly its role in setting the stage for the Mr. McMahon character, which wasn't even part of the post-Montreal plan, as Vince thought people would see him as the babyface when he went on TV and said that "Bret screwed Bret" by not following the "time-honored tradition" of the business). I once heard someone (I think it was Cornette but I'm remember for sure) point out that as an actual "screwjob," Montreal was a huge failure, as the goal of a screwjob is to double-cross one of the participants without the fans ever realizing that something is amiss, which decidedly did not happen in Montreal.
If you compare Montreal to every other screwjob in wrestling, the minimal amount of hammering it into kayfabe they had to do is astounding. Like I said, Vince tried to come off as a babyface for a few weeks and then pivoted. But considering only one auxiliary character had to really change alignment, in comparison to say Starrcade 1999, which was a forced flip of the allignment chart on its ass, is pretty amazing, and an expert piece of warping kayfabe around reality.
You're thinking of the wrong kind of screwjob. I'm talking a shoot screwjob like the Montreal biting incident or (for another poorly executed version, the Wendi Richter vs. Spider Lady match), which Montreal was but all that followed it were not. For Montreal to be understood they basically had to come out on the air and tell us everything was fake, because otherwise Bret wasn't doing anything wrong. If they had just gone straight into Vince as a heel and saying he screwed Bret because he didn't like him and then he fired Bret's useless old ass then that would be one thing, but you are ignoring a critical two-week period where they tried to make Vince (and the company) the babyfaces in this situation.
I had never thought of Vince being babyface as a critical piece of how they rebounded. I guess I've been caught up in the narrative for so long that Vince's babyface attempt was a failure I dismissed it.
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