The origins of the documentary "The Claw" go back 11, 14 or 26 years, depending on whom you ask. So it makes sense that there are different stories about its completion, too.
"The Claw" is a portrait of 80-year-old pro wrestling icon Jim "Baron von" Raschke, a former star of the Minneapolis-based American Wrestling Association. Named for Raschke's signature head-grabbing move, "The Claw" is showing online as part of the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. Director Philip Harder tinkered with it until its world premiere last week and, although he and co-producer Karl Raschke (Jim's son) agree the long-gestating movie came into focus recently, they differ on what got it to the finish line.
Music was crucial for Harder, whose work includes feature "Tuscaloosa" and dozens of videos for artists including Low (who hired the Baron to appear in the Duluth band's "Shame" in 1995). "The Claw" includes tracks from local favorites Babes in Toyland, Suicide Commandos and Rifle Sports — and the music/wrestling connection is not just geographic.
"In wrestling, you'd have names like the Crusher, the Destroyer, Mad Dog — these big, villainous stars who'd slam chairs over people's heads," said Harder. "It seemed to me punk rockers learned from that. Some of them would smash the mic into their forehead and bleed. Those guys probably saw wrestling when they were kids. For me, the edit [of 'The Claw'] really exploded when we started to put this cool Minneapolis punk music in."
Harder, 56, said his wife overheard him working on the movie and wondered why wrestlers are always screaming, which gave the filmmaker pause.
"I thought, 'That makes sense. It's such a one-sided story. We need a woman's perspective,' " he said. So he asked Baron's daughter, Heidi Raschke, to be part of the documentary. "She's just a star, telling all these great stories," he added.
It's his sister's involvement that Karl Raschke, 50, thinks put the finishing touch on "The Claw," which grew from a same-named play produced at St. Paul's History Theatre in 2007 and co-written by Karl and Cory McLeod. Heidi was not involved in that project, but Karl says her contributions crystallized the movie, which began filming in 2010 and was fueled by a 2013 online fundraiser. (Full disclosure: I have worked with both Karl and Heidi in the past.)
"That interview with Heidi gave us the end of the movie and all kinds of great stuff," Karl said.
It also helped shift the doc from a story about wrestling — encompassing the Nebraska childhood of Jim, an amateur career that stopped just short of a trip to the 1964 Olympics and a pivot to the antics of pro wrestling in the '60s-'80s — to one about family.
"The first shoot we did [for 'Shame'], I thought, 'Hmm, this is weird. The Baron is literally two different personalities,' and that surprised me. I figured, 'You're the Baron. You'll be that same way when you're Jim.' It's not the same person. The Baron has a German accent and he's yelling. Jim is a guy from Omaha who's unassuming and gentle and into the arts and education," Harder said.
In the film, which is on the lookout for a distribution deal, Heidi remembers her "tender little nugget" of a dad sobbing at "Little House on the Prairie" reruns.
Karl, who works in communications at the University of Minnesota, hopes "The Claw" — which acknowledges wrestling matches were staged but also insists the performers were athletes and actors — has something to say about realness and authenticity, truth and fiction. He thinks, for instance, of how it rankled when a professor told his eventual wife, Tonya Kuxhausen, it was "too bad" he grew up the son of a wrestler.
"This is a bit of a corrective. You may be surprised that the story isn't as simple as you think. My family's story is not what you might think. I don't think professional wrestling is as dismissible as people might think. I want to complicate the picture," Karl said.
To wit, he appears in "The Claw," both as his dad's double (in re-enactments), and as himself, talking about his dad. He discusses the general impact of wrestling and also how it made his family more open and accepting.
"Wrestling is a world culture. So it was an education for us in a strange and fun way. And that's one of the things that I think comes across in the movie, that we were sort of forced — not in a bad way — to be open to change and to different points of view," Karl said.
"The Claw" takes us behind the scenes as mentor Vern Gagne coaches the Baron, showing the heartbreaks and triumphs of the people who fought in the ring. Because much of the material comes from the viewpoints of Karl and Heidi, it's also about two people who love their dad, who lives in Hastings with their mom, Bonnie.
As much as the movie has evolved since Harder began kicking around the idea of a doc, those themes always were there.
"My whole thing when Phil first approached me was, 'I want my dad's story to be represented in a way he can be proud of.' And he trusts me, in this he'll-do-anything-for-me way, so I want to live up to that trust and make something I think is great — as great as his career and him as a person," Karl said.
While Jim, Karl and Heidi Raschke are on-screen in "The Claw" quite a bit, another key player, mostly glimpsed on its margins, is Bonnie, aka "Mrs. Claw." Heidi addresses the challenges of raising a family whose patriarch was often overseas. Karl notes that the home movie footage in "The Claw," dating back to the '60s, was shot by his mom.
It wouldn't be a stretch, then, to argue in favor of another origin date for the documentary, not when Harder met the Baron, when the play was staged or when they shot the first interview. This timeline began six decades ago with a Super-8 camera.
"She's one of the cinematographers, one of the most important ones," said Karl of his mom. "She was the documentarian before we even knew this was going to be a movie."
Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival
When: Through Sunday.
Tickets: $10-$15, mspfilm.org.