Ahead of the upcoming Alison Brie Netflix series, I thought it would be a neat idea to watch Brett Whitcomb’s 2012 documentary about the unique TV show GLOW (The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling) which ran from 1986 to 1990 and was the first instance of an all female wrestling series. The documentary features interviews with many wrestlers who appeared in the original TV series and they reflect on how they first became involved with it, how they developed their personas and why it all eventually came to an end.
I must admit that until I saw the news of the upcoming Netflix series, I was completely unaware of the original GLOW; maybe because it ended the very same year I was born or maybe because of the fact that I’m definitely “out of the loop” when it comes to TV wrestling, although I did watch a certain amount of WWF (as it was then) matches on TV and spent a bit of time playing War Zone and Smackdown 2 on my PS1. Still, this particular phenomenon was completely unheard of to me, so it was interesting to see what it was all about and why it became so popular.
Described in the documentary as a mix of vaudeville, TV wrestling and Saturday Night Live, the film gets off to a fun start as the colourful characters are introduced and the wacky footage of the original series is shown; characters such as Matilda the Hun, Colonel Ninotchka, Big Bad Mama and the much loved Mountain Fiji are introduced, rapping their intros and essentially doing comedy sketches for the TV audience. It is apparent that the wrestlers loved the times that they spent making the series, recalling that when they signed up, they had no idea what they were getting into and were simply looking for a big acting opportunity. There is an undeniable feeling of sorority and camaraderie among them all throughout and their light hearted recollections of those crazy times is endearing and provoke plenty of smiles throughout.
The film does a good job in showing why the series was so popular since it took risks and included a fair amount of non-PC moments. It has a coherent narrative, there’s plenty of original footage and it utilities a wide range of interviewees, although it can get a little difficult to remember all of their names and the structure of the documentary is pretty safe, standard fare for a film like this.
Of course the inevitable “dark side” part of the documentary comes into play as the wrestlers recall some of the dangers associated with GLOW; the cheaply built ring often led to injuries and some go on to recall how they weren’t all physically built for wrestling since a lot of them were simply actresses looking for a big break. There’s also a cringe worthy scene that shows one of the wrestlers suffering a rather nasty dislocation in the ring and the parts that look at the sweet natured Mountain Fiji being moved into a nursing home is a little difficult to endure. The final segment focuses on the big reunion where all the wrestlers meet up after so much time but, while genuine and I guess necessary, isn’t as good as the preceeding material which focused on the actual wrestling.
All in all, this 2012 documentary will probably never go down in history as a classic, as there isn’t a massive story to be told and there are no major surprises, but it’s interesting to learn about this incredibly unique TV experience and the colourful characters, as well as the incredibly eager and affable actresses who portray them, are great fun to spend time with. I can only hope that the upcoming Netflix series captures that same unique spark and that vital feeling of heart and sisterly love.
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