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GLOW: GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING was the long-running, live-action television program that featured chainsaw attacks, Borscht Belt comedy, and a wrestler named Vixxxen. It was kind of like WWF, but with a cast of women and camcorder production values. In other words, GLOW was way more entertaining and hilarious than anything else on Saturday morning TV, including RUDE DOG AND THE DWEEBS. Glitter! Spandex! Jackie Stallone! Completely over-the-top and possibly conceptualized by an alzheimer's patient, the show was everything a ten-year-old could ask for on Saturday morning. It's also everything a mid-thirties-year-old could ask for on any day of the week. Trust me.
Now, over twenty years after the cancellation of GLOW, the filmmakers behind ROCK-AFIRE EXPLOSION have given us GLOW: THE STORY OF THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING. It's exactly what you'd hope to hear about while watching a documentary on GLOW. The faux-glamor. The dirt. The bone-popping-out-of-someone's-arm. But then, about halfway through, it's understood that the wrestler once known as Mount Fiji is a real, actual person. Her name is Emily Dole. Because of her time with GLOW, Dole is bedridden.
The lives of the GLOW ladies aren't mired down in crack addiction, suicide, or other kinds of horribleness. Sadness is present, as it is with anyone who has blood pumping through their veins. But this is sadness as a means of personal growth. And seeing that unfold before our eyes -- that feels good. As much as I laughed at the ridiculous vintage GLOW footage that was thrown at my face every few minutes, I was surprised by how the real-life story behind GLOW made me feel. That dichotomy between the ironic and the sincere doesn't always work in 'talking heads' documentaries -- forced intentions are obvious from a mile away. Not here, though. This is a genuinely entertaining documentary that plays no tricks and keeps things sincere. And since this isn't a doc about Investment Bankers, but about THE GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING!!!!, I fully guarantee your enjoyment.
- Joseph A. Ziemba
For six years, GLOW hosted over five-hundred matches, welcomed millions of viewers in addition to what seemed to be escalating viewership with each match, and was a breakthrough for women's wrestling. The taboos GLOW went on to break were unforeseeable, in a time when women's wrestling wasn't so much as controversial but simply inconceivable.
The female wrestlers themselves were taken not from wrestling tryouts but your average casting call referral from their agents. All the women involved were aspiring actresses who were informed of the role for a new TV show through their agents and got the part that way. The wrestlers were divided into two groups, the "good" girls and the "bad" girls, with the "good" girls being coached by Jackie Stallone, the mother of Sylvester Stallone of all people. The girls' main trainer was Mando Guerrero, an energetic and animated man who was able to put one of the girls in a headlock the first day and make her cry, shattering all preconceived notions that GLOW was a fake program.
The show was made possible thanks to funding and producing by Hollywood legend Matt Cimber and Riviera Hotel and Casino owner Meshulam Riklis, who allowed GLOW to be filmed in the hotel. Without the support and labor of Cimber and Riklis, GLOW would've likely never materialized and a pitch for the show/idea would've been laughed out of the boardroom. Director Brett Whitcomb is fortunate enough to get to speak with many of the wrestlers, many of whom have gone on to live successful lives in fields that aren't wrestling. Some are real estate agents, some are still actors, and those chosen to remain in wrestling have gone on to achieve commendable success. Many of the wrestlers, despite a laborious work ethic and unpredictable wrestling matches, still remained in shape and in good physical condition.
However, as can be inferred, some are still scarred from wrestling in some way. Consider "Mountain Fiji," one of the icons of the GLOW. "Fiji" was given her name because she was built like a mountain, with her feet almost never leaving the floor during a match and her incredible build working in her favor when faced against a puny blonde girl. Yet, "Fiji"'s build has done nothing but work against her in the future; she has almost lost the ability to walk and remains bedridden in a nursing home, most of the time.
Another wrestler with similar issues is "Matilda the Hun," again, another wrestler known for her hefty build and incredible strength. "Matilda" hasn't found herself in as bad shape as "Fiji," but she still struggles with the ability to adequately walk. When she began performing in GLOW, she was already thirty-five, which is when she should be contemplating retirement. She continued to wrestler for another fifteen years after. Here she is in her fifties, with subpar knees and the help of a wheelchair. Yet, she still reminds us that just because she's in a wheelchair doesn't mean she's weak.
Despite incorruptible memories (the taboos the show broke, wrestler "Susie Spirit"'s arm breaking during a match, which spawns grotesque reactions), GLOW was abruptly cancelled in 1992. In 1990, Riklis had withdrew his support and ceased allowing the girls and trainers access to the Riveria Hotel and production was moved to a lesser warehouse nearby the hotel. Still, it seemed at the height of its popularity, GLOW was canned and the wrestlers were left without closure - no reunion, no farewell, no phone call, nothing.
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, even in a brief seventy-three minutes, nicely articulates what the organization was about, why it was unique, and goes the extra mile to humanize its wrestling subjects. Whitcomb has a nice, subtle way of shattering your judgments upon entering the film, completely making you forgo your thoughts on female wrestling and just having you see the subjects, the matches, and the characters behind the costumes in order to emerge a more knowledgeable person on the subject. In essence, that's what documentaries are supposed to do, and by definition, this one succeeds.
Directed by: Brett Whitcomb.
With Matt Cimber on board, and Jackie Stallone of all people out front, this looks like a lot of fun. Why did I not see this in the 1980s? Did my local station not carry it? This takes the cheese of the WWF and kicks it up a notch. And, in a small way, is sort of prescient about women's wrestling.
I do wish Cimber would have agreed to being interviewed. Between this, his films, and his relationships, he is one of the more interesting people in Hollywood and is very much unknown to the general public. We really need to get him on the record more.
See the new generation of GLOW on NF and see how it compares to Classic GLOW. We would Love your input on Twitter! Do you want to see the original Ladies of GLOW on The New Netflix GLOW in at least cameos message NetlflixGLOW and tell then you want the classic ladies to be a part of the show too!
The problem with this movie is that without David McLane (the creator of GLOW) or Matt Cimber (the director of most GLOW episodes) participating in this documentary (they both apparently refused when asked to participate) there's just a lot that isn't there. It kind of reminded me of the documentary "Disgraced" about the murder of a Baylor college basketball player by one of his teammates, when they got refusals to participate from Baylor University, most of the teammates, and most of the attorneys who worked the case. That left much missing from the film, as is the case here.
I understand that you work with what you can work with, but there is always the risk that the result is not as good as it could have been. And that is what the case is here.