“Lives up to its subtitle: The First Ladies of Wrestling”
I first heard about this film last spring, at the Cauliflower Alley Club convention in Las Vegas, a get-together for retired wrestlers and their fans. Two attendees, Banner and Martinez, talked about their part in the film, and we were immediately intrigued; a year later, I’m pleased to say this largely lives up to expectations. It takes you back to a time before pro wrestling was synonymous with the WWE, and the characters here are fabulous. They’re led by Gillem, now in her 80’s, occasionally difficult to understand (they subtitle her comments) but with a life that went from the ring to lion-taming. She’s merely one example, and the results are fascinating.
That’s not to say this is perfect film-making. There’s too little structure – a vague thread about an upcoming reunion is about all – and the film jumps about in history with little apparent purpose. There’s a vaguely misanthropic bent too, in that almost all men are rapists, abusive fathers or cheating husbands; it’d also have been nice to have the women wrestlers better located, culturally, in the era of which they were part. We get some priceless What’s My Line? footage, and we’d love to have seen more of this. Instead, it’s mostly talking-heads, and no matter how interesting, this eventually gets old . Much of the actual footage of bouts comes off the Wrestling Women USA DVD from Something Weird, and there’s also chunks from Pin Down Girl, neither of which are memorable.
But in the end, the subject is an inspired choice, and the film certainly does the topic justice. You’re left with profound respect for ladies who went against the mores of popular society and stepped into the ring, often sacrificing their health – and in one case, their life – for our entertainment. This documentary is a fitting tribute to these marvellous women.
Dir: Ruth Leitman
Star: Gladys Gillem, The Fabulous Moolah, Ida May Martinez, Penny Banner