Docurama // 2012 // 76 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // April 16th, 2013
The rise and fall of the first ever all-female wrestling show through the stories of those who lived it.
Any self-respecting child of the '80s remembers the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling -- G.L.O.W., for the initiated -- as a TV rite of passage. Combining the "sport" of the then-huge WWF with the theatricality and outrageousness of MTV, G.L.O.W. was silly and funny and impossible to turn off. It couldn't have existed in any other time period.
For those nostalgic for the days dominated by the world's first all-female wrestling league, here's GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a new documentary that takes a look back the rapid ascent and premature demise of the estrogen-fueled antidote to the WWF and NWA (or WCW, as it would eventually come to be called). Combining clips and archival footage from the '80s TV show with modern-day interviews with many of the league's participants, the documentary is an affectionate look at this weird, lighting-in-a-bottle program and what it meant to everyone involved. There's talk about how it all came to be, with many of the women confessing they auditioned not as wrestlers but as actresses and had to learn -- very quickly -- how to wrestle on TV. There's backstage gossip. There's a lot of talk about what the women were and were not allowed to do; the show was taped at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, and the female wrestlers were basically required to move in to the hotel and live there full-time. There were strict curfews, they weren't allowed to break character, and the "bad" wrestlers could never be seen mingling with the "good" wrestlers. They were Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling 24 hours a day.
Eventually, the documentary begins to shift focus towards the present day, as we get to see more of the impact that being a part of G.L.O.W. had on its participants. At the heart of the movie -- just as she was at the heart of the league -- is Emily Dole, who wrestled under the name of Mt. Fiji. She was the biggest star of G.L.O.W., the wrestler who was respected by all the other women and who took it completely seriously. Where the movie finds her now is sad, but Dole's spirits have not dampened. The league means as much to her as it always has.
Director Brett Whitcomb doesn't tell the story of G.L.O.W. through any kind of ironic filter; his isn't a movie concerned with "Can you believe this thing existed?" Sure, it's a question that rises in the minds of the audience, but not because the documentary is steered that way. Disbelief is a natural reaction at seeing footage from G.L.O.W. presented without commentary -- but, beyond how dated it feels, the outrageousness on display was entirely the point. For those who have any kind of affection for the theatricality of '80s wrestling, GLOW is a hoot. But it's also about more than just what happened with the league; it's a movie about community, about being a part of something that no one can quite understand except for those who were there. The women interviewed in the doc went through a totally unique experience and formed a kind of family in the process.
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling arrives on DVD courtesy of Docurama in an extras-packed special edition that should provide hours of entertainment for fans of the wrestling league. The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with clean and bright interview segments and archival footage that's very watchable, even if it does look like really old VHS tape (which, let's be honest, is probably what it is). The standard stereo audio track does a good job with the interviews, but gets a little muddy in the older footage. It's still generally pretty easy to make everything out, making for technical presentation that's sound overall.
Where the disc excels is in its bonus content, which is really terrific and actually runs longer the film itself. First up is a commentary track featuring wrestlers Matilda the Hun (Dee Boher), Little Egypt (Angelina Altishin) and Hollywood (Jeanne Basone), moderated by Billy Corgan. Yes, the lead singer and guitarist of the Smashing Pumpkins has recorded a commentary for the G.L.O.W. documentary, because everything is right with the world. Corgan is a huge wrestling geek and even owns his own league here in Chicago, making him a clever and interesting choice as moderator. He's fairly subdued but clearly passionate, and does a good job of asking questions and steering the discussion with the women, who all have good stories. It's a very entertaining commentary.
Elsewhere in the special features is a collection of archival material, including a pair of old matches (Daisy vs. Zelda and Big Bad Mama/MTV vs. Zelda/Mt. Fiji) and a bunch of the sketches that gave the show so much of its personality. They are incredibly cheap and broad, but as such a big part of G.L.O.W.'s legacy, it's great to see them included here. Another clip, in which Susie Spirit dislocates her arm, has been included, but I deliberately avoided it. Watch it at your own peril. Two vintage "music videos" featuring the wrestlers (one for the good girls, one for the bad) are also here, as are those famous rap intros that kicked off every show.
Rounding out the extensive supplemental section is a collection of bonus interviews and extended scenes that spend more time with some of the women in the present, from Hollywood going through her closet to Babe the Farmer's Daughter's efforts to keep G.L.O.W. alive by selling merchandise out of her home and restarting the league to Hollywood's business where she makes private wrestling videos for fans in her living room. There's also some footage from a Q&A session at the United Film Festival with way too many wrestlers on stage at once.
For all its cheapness and tackiness, for all the outrageous characters and terrible attempts at comedy, G.L.O.W. holds a very special place in pop culture history. That's understood by GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a charming tribute to what might otherwise be a footnote in the pages of '80s nostalgia. Here's a documentary that takes its subject seriously while not taking itself all that seriously, featuring a collection of women who know exactly what it was that they were a part of and who wouldn't change a thing. Even if you're not a fan of female wrestling from the '80s, GLOW is something special.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Vintage Matches
* Official Site