In 10 Words or Less
Inside the world of all-lady '80s pro wrestling
Likes: Pro wrestling (when I was a kid), G.L.O.W. (when I was a kid)
Dislikes: My disturbing memories of G.L.O.W.
Hates: Pro wrestling (now)
When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were all about the Saturday morning cartoons on network TV. When they would do the prime-time fall cartoon previews, and you got to see all the new shows coming, it was like a second Christmas. But when the clock turned 12, I would flip over to WPIX on channel 11 and wrap up my morning with G.L.O.W, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. As a hardcore wrestling fan, this mid-day helping of grappling was like manna from heaven, but as a young boy, this gathering of over-the-top women wrestlers wielding weapons and aggressive attitudes was also a frightening proposition that seared itself into my boy brain, which had only just begun to appreciate the fairer sex.
Today, wrestling is more like a soap opera than the cartoonish battles of good and evil of yesteryear, which makes the comedy-heavy G.L.O.W. look even more unusual by comparison. A short-lived cultural phenomenon in the '80s, the all-female wrestling promotion, headquartered in Las Vegas at the Riviera Casino, suddenly disappeared shortly after its peak, leaving a cast of media darlings without their livelihoods and a generation of fans with memories and questions about what happened. As with most such situations, the truth makes for a great story, and along comes Brett Whitcomb's GLOW to tell that story, directly in the words of the women who made G.L.O.W. such a large, yet brief success.
Loaded with interviews with many of the series' most popular wrestlers (credited on-screen only by their wrestling name) and archival footage from the show, the documentary does a fine job of establishing what G.L.O.W. was all about for the uninitiated, and refreshing the memories of the nostalgic fan, before diving into what exactly happened to the organization and where the women are today. With over 20 years having passed since the show left the air, only the biggest of fans will know even half of the stories shared here, including the origins of G.L.O.W., the strange housing arrangements for the girls and one of the more gruesome injuries ever in wrestling. That makes for an entertaining and enlightening experience for anyone approaching this documentary, no matter their level of familiarity with the subject matter. Of course, if you grew up watching these amazonians do battle, there's the added joy of recapturing a touch of your childhood though the inclusion of so much old footage of matches and promos.
Though most of the history is lighthearted and told through the rose-tinted glasses of the ladies' positive memories of being part of the promotion, things occasionally become a bit dark, especially when we visit with two of G.L.O.W.'s biggest stars (figuratively and literally), Mountain Fiji and Matilda the Hun. Two of the group's largest ladies, their bodies have failed them over the years, and their participation in G.L.O.W. remains their proudest moment, which is both sad and uplifting, as despite their damaged bodies, they are both remembered fondly by the fans and their fellow wrestlers. This leads to a reunion that helps lend some emotional heft to a story about such a relatively silly subject. It's a perfect tribute to such an ultimately meaningless endeavor, a very '80s exploit, yet at the same time, something cherished by so many.
The film arrives on a single DVD, which is packed in a standard keepcase with a nice double-sided cover featuring a photo of many of the wrestlers. The disc features a static, anamorphic widescreen menu with options to play the film, select scenes and check out the extras. There are no audio options and no subtitles.
The new footage shot for the documentary looks pretty nice, with a good level of fine detail and appropriate color, while the archival clips, which were pretty much entirely shot on video, look like old TV, coming off as soft, full of noise and harsh color. That said, they probably could have looked worse based on their age. There are no notable issues with compression artifacts.
Delivered via a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, the audio here is fine, with nothing worth complaining about, though there's nothing that will impress much either (though most documentaries don't require anything more.) Everything is center-balanced, and there's no competition between the music and dialogue, making for a solid presentation.
The big extra is an audio commentary that runs nearly the length of the film, ending a few minutes early, with Billy Corgan and wrestlers Little Egypt, Matilda the Hun and Hollywood. If you don't recognize that first name from the world of G.L.O.W., that's because he's actually the lead singer of The Smashing Pumpkins, one of the biggest alternative bands of the '90s. He's a big wrestling fan (a fact that blows my mind) and he serves as a great moderator for the track, asking good questions of the ladies, making notes of important bits of G.L.O.W. history and staying out of the way when he doesn't have anything to add. The track is barely screen-specific, but there's a lot of good discussion, so that's not very important.
If you want to hear even more from the wrestlers, as well as a bit from the show's director, Matt Cimber (who declined to be interviewed in the film,) check out the United Film Festival Q&A. It's a bit chaotic, with over 20 wrestlers on-stage, so there's some crosstalk, but there are also some tidbits that didn't come out in the film (mostly because of Cimber's non-involvement.)
The rest of the extras are made up of various featurettes and clips, which run a total of 84 minutes. They start with a pair of classic matches, with Big Bad Mama and MTV facing Zelda the Brain and Mountain Fiji (10:29) and Daisy versus Zelda the Brain (7:40). Though they both oddly feature the lesser-known Zelda, they are good examples of G.L.O.W., with all the smack talk, personalities, plot and cheesy commentary the show was known for. They also show just how low-budget the show really was. There's even more old-school G.L.O.W. in a reel of skits (15:57) showing off the terribly corny, Hee-Haw-level jokes that populated the series (as well as the unusually thoughtful and/or topical bits by Zelda.) The one extra I couldn't really watch spends almost seven minutes on the dislocation of Susie Spirit's arm in the ring, which is replayed again and again to a sadistic degree. It's really disturbing, and the commentary does not help matters.
The show's heavy musical influence is explored via two music videos (one of which (4:34) features most of the good girls in swimsuits, while the other (3:55) spotlights the bad girls), the opening rap intros (1:44) and something called "Le Musical with Susie Spirit" (3:35) featuring the spunky wrestler performing two Ella Fitzgerald songs in the ring, "Let's Fall in Love," directed at a ref in the midst of a battle royale, and "S'wonderful," which she performs while wrestling the Russian Ninotchka.
"Hollywood's Closet" (4:02) is an extended scene from the film, as the wrestler shows some of the wrestling memorabilia and costumes in her collection, including old G.L.O.W. products, while "Babe's New G.L.O.W." (9:49) focuses on the former wrestler's attempts to keep the brand alive and relaunch it for a new generation, out of a one-room office in her home. Between her operation (which includes what looks like a first-generation iMac) and the backyard wrestling school she uses to train new recruits, the whole thing feels a bit depressing, and out of tune with the rest of the movie. There's more about Hollywood in "Hollywood Today" (10:24,) a look at her independent custom video business, where she creates wrestling videos for fans for a fee. Though some might thinks these are similar to porn, the only thing they really share is really bad acting.
Some additional interview footage wraps things up, with almost nine more minutes of wrestler Mando Guerrero, who trained the original G.L.O.W. wrestlers. His passion for wrestling and thoughts on his role in the franchise are interesting, but when he starts putting his wife in various holds to demonstrate some ideas, it's just plain odd. In the remaining clips, Matilda the Hun (9:33) gets to talk a bit more about her pre-G.L.O.W. career, and Spike and Chainsaw (7:15) get to expand on their ridiculous in-ring weapons, including a real frickin' chainsaw.
The Bottom Line
For fans of '80s wrestling, this is an entertaining and informative trip down memory lane; a chance to see how the sausage was made, at an age when you can actually appreciate it. The mix of classic footage and fresh interviews with the participants hits all the right marks, the quality is very good and the pile of extras makes for a just-about perfect package. Some interest in wrestling certainly helps make it worth watching, but even just an interest in the culture of the '80s is enough to make this one you'll want to check out.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.