“A thoroughly satisfactory snapshot of a pop-culture element from another era. “
It has now been almost a quarter-century since GLOW was cancelled in 1990, and there still hasn’t been anything quite like it on television in the Western world: a pro wrestling federation entirely populated by women wrestlers. The brainchild of David McLane, and funded by Pia Zadora’s husband, the owner of the Riviera casino in Las Vegas, GLOW was a marvel of eighties low-budget television, mixing self-effacing comedy (it depicted McLane as having his office in a phone booth) with larger-than-life characters such as Matilda the Hun, and of course, wrestling matches. This documentary tells the story of the federation’s rise and fall – largely through the eyes of the women, as McLane and Matt Cimber, the show’s director, both declined to be formally interviewed (which is a shame, as it would definitely have provided another dimension for the film).
It’s a fascinating story, of something which probably never should have worked, but succeeded in a way that remains unmatched. Almost all the women had no wrestling experience, but were trained under Mando Guerrero (the brother of late WWE superstar Eddie) to develop skills that, from the relatively brief clips shown, weren’t much worse than certain current WWE divas I could mention. The stars didn’t just work together, but also roomed together, with rules governing their behaviour, more reminiscent of A League of Their Own than late-eighties Las Vegas! They don’t hold back on their distrust of Cimber and his often dubious motivational methods, insulting the women, but respect the fact they were allowed input into and control over their characters, which were often just larger-than-life versions of themselves. There’s also cringe-inducing footage of a match where one of the wrestler seriously damaged her elbow, proving again the fallacy of “wrestling = fake”.
But the most touching part, which gives the film an emotional heart not often seen in documentaries, concerns “Mount Fuji”, a.k.a. Emily Dole, a Samoan and former shot-putter, who was part of the roster. However, her weight (over 300 lbs) caused her health to deteriorate, and when she was located during filming, she was unable to walk, but still spoke very fondly of her time with the girls. One of the GLOW wrestlers, inspired by the documentary, organized a reunion, bringing women together who in some cases hadn’t seen each other for twenty years. I won’t say any more than that, but let’s just say, it’s been a bad season for allergies here in Phoenix. :) It’s a fine ending, that wraps up the loose ends and completes this in more than adequate fashion.
Dir: Brett Whitcomb
Star: Mount Fiji, Tina Ferrari, Ninotchka, Big Bad Mama