Film Review: GLOW shines brightly

WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

So after months talking about the GLOW documentary with the likes of Angelina Altishin (Link) and Lisa Moretti (Part One, Part Two), we’ve finally had a chance to see the final product on the big screen as part of the London leg of the United Film Festival. While some of our party went in with only the briefest knowledge of the GLOW product, I did wonder whether I was the opposite – and whether hearing Angelina & Lisa opine on how great the documentary was had actually given me too high an expectation for the project. It couldn’t be as good as they said it was, surely? Well, it turns out they were right. Sorry ladies, I will never doubt you again!

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling is a superb feature, charting the rise and fall of the 80s TV hit that succeeded against the odds and then was abruptly cancelled at the height of its success. The story of how a rag-tag bunch of actress/model wannabes who answered an open casting call and were turned into wrestlers covers the first part of the movie, and we hear a number of interesting stories – be it training with Mando Guerrero, the major part Matt Cimber played in deciding on the feel of the show (which apparently brought him into conflict with GLOW founder David McLane), to Spike & Chainsaw candidly admitting that they were terrible in the ring, but enjoyed the freedom to set things on fire and swing a real-live chainsaw around. Godiva mentions the randomness of asking for (and subsequently *getting*) a horse for her entrance, and Ninotchka explains how they were in legitimate fear for her safety at the height of the Cold War when she played the Soviet colonel (and actually got engaged to someone who was far more in love with the character of Ninotchka than her). I also very much enjoyed seeing archive footage of the TV shows of the late 80s featuring GLOW stars on mainstream TV shows – including the infamous moment when the gentle giant Mountain Fiji picked up (and then set down) terrified game-show host Bob Eubanks.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether the filmmakers would have found any particular story or journey to follow – and the answer came crashing through our nostalgic bubble with a sudden and unexpected jump cut to Emily Dole (the former Mountain Fiji), laying propped up in the bed at her nursing home. Her body had let her down as she was coping with several health issues, but her eyes still twinkled with wistful memories of her times in GLOW – and just as she had been on the show, Fiji became the heart and soul of the documentary as we started to uncover the darker side of GLOW. We see injuries to Little Egypt’s knee (thanks to a badly placed mat), and the camera doesn’t shirk from some absolutely disturbing footage of Susie Spirit destroying her elbow on a botched sunset flip. Matt Cimber comes in for some pointed criticism from several of the women for the way he ‘motivated’ them by negative reinforcement. Sadly both Cimber and GLOW founder David McLane declined an offer to be formally interviewed for the project.

Tears from Little Egypt preceded her organising the first GLOW reunion, which eventually became the emotional climax of the movie. Fiji was transported in a wheelchair to the building and finally had a chance to see her friends again after all these years – and I’ll be honest, I had a tear in my eye. The warmth and genuine bond between the girls is truly palpable and unbroken after all these years. Godiva described it, fittingly, as a sorority. For all intents and purposes, these were her sisters.

The movie isn’t perfect – as noted, David McLane declined the offer to be involved in the project, so I felt that his voice was missing. As the founder of GLOW and as someone who ended up leaving after two seasons (and taking the majority of the talent pool to form POWW – necessitating a massive recasting for Seasons 3 & 4), I’d have liked to have heard his views on whether the project that ended up going to air was what he had envisioned or not. Actually, the fact that Seasons 3 & 4 had a nearly totally different cast isn’t touched on at all – with everyone presented as one big family – but the McLane story is one that unfortunately was out of the hands of the filmmakers given his reluctance to be interviewed, so it’s understandable that time wasn’t wasted on that story.

It seems a cliche to say that GLOW made me laugh and made me cry, but it actually did. The tears never seemed forced and the emotion was captured with a sensitivity that meant only the hardest of hearts wouldn’t find a moment of genuine happiness at the reunion. Everybody ended up coming out of it well, and I suppose they were all best summed up by Lisa Moretti as she compared the cast to the original GLOW championship tiara. A bit rough around the edges… some bits are broken, but it still sparkles.

We didn’t attend alone. Oh no. We invited along some of our friends, who just happened to be female wrestlers – namely Amazon, Alpha Female and Rhia O’Reilly – to view the screening with us. After the screening, we got some of their thoughts.

At the conclusion of the London leg of the United Film Festival, GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling was presented the audience award for feature length documentary. As you might have already guessed, this is one to go out of your way to catch – but unfortunately at the minute, chances to see the movie are few and far between. That may change, however, if the production company behind the documentary (Connell Creations) are successful in finding financial backing for a DVD/Blu Ray release through a currently running campaign on Kickstarter

As we publish this, the producers are trying to raise $32,787 to cover funding for DVD/BD release, remastering, promotion and similar and are offering a range of incentive gifts for backers ranging from the smallest donations up to high roller investment in the $10,000 range. From talking to producer Jason Connell at the London festival, he mentioned that there would be a lot of extra footage made available for the home release, including upscaled VQ on classic matches, unused documentary footage (Connell suggested there was nearly another film’s worth of footage in the can) and matches that have never been shown on TV. At the minute at least, this project on Kickstarter represents the ONLY WAY you will get to view the documentary outside the film festival circuit for now. We humbly request that you consider donating some cash to this production and let’s get some worldwide love for the production.

– Stew Allen

It’s disappointing after hearing how passionate the ladies have been about the film when you’ve talked to them about the project, hearing Lisa’s enthusiasm after seeing the film, and now hearing your reaction, as well as the ladies you’ve interviewed reactions that this documentary has slim to no chance at being released.

Based on the current numbers, unless a backer steps up to fund the project as a whole, it doesn’t seem like this is going to see the light of day outside of the film festivals it’s currently being shown at.