GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

by Drew Kerr on May 8, 2012

in Documentaries,Film Festivals,Hot Docs

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (Director: Brett Whitcomb): GLOW tells the story of the char­ac­ters and inner work­ings of the Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling (GLOW), a syn­dic­ated tele­vi­sion pro­gram that aired in North America from 1986 until 1990. Like the WWF, the all-female wrest­ling organ­iz­a­tion peddled enter­tain­ment over actual cred­ible sporting com­pet­i­tion, com­bining pre­de­ter­mined matches with musical inter­ludes, reality tele­vi­sion seg­ments, and corn­ball skits (“Hee Haw with wrest­ling”, as former GLOW wrestler “Godiva” described it at the post-screening Q&A). I’m a child of the ‘80s who grew up reg­u­larly watching the WWF, yet I’d never heard of GLOW; my best friend, who was a bigger wrest­ling geek than I was, told me that he’d also never heard of the pro­gram. Perhaps GLOW just had a lower pro­file in Canada. Regardless, mil­lions of others were appar­ently watching, although I still found myself feeling at odds with dir­ector Brett Whitcomb’s gen­er­ously elev­ated status of the Las Vegas-based show’s cul­tural impact.

Whitcomb delivers an inform­ative back­ground of GLOW for the unini­ti­ated through an extensive number of inter­views with former wrest­lers who adopted flam­boyant per­sonas, assuming either hero or vil­lain roles. To name just a few, there was the American-hating Russian “Ninotchka,” the 6’4 and 300 pound “Matilda The Hun,” “Sally The Farmer’s Daughter,” “Mt. Fiji,” and “Big Bad Mama.” Just about all of the women inter­viewed come across as quite like­able and their stories make for enga­ging viewing, whether recalling the sur­real exper­i­ences of vir­tu­ally overnight minor fame, being strongly encour­aged to main­tain their char­ac­ters’ per­sonas around the clock, their sis­terly bond, the phys­ical rigours, and their pro­found dis­ap­point­ment when the show unex­pec­tedly ended. Unfortunately, there’s no per­spective avail­able from GLOW cre­ators David McLane or Matt Cimber — they declined to be inter­viewed by Whitcomb, to the film’s det­ri­ment (Cimber does appear briefly on camera at the film’s end). The wealth of archival clips are a fun nos­talgia trip back to garish day-glo col­ours, ridicu­lously huge hair styles, and some of the worst rap­ping you’ve ever heard (that the rap per­form­ances were inspired by the “Super Bowl Shuffle” says all you need to know), along with skimpy out­fits, ultra-campy comedy, and poorly wrestled matches. There’s also some seat-squirming footage of one of the wrest­lers suf­fering an abso­lutely hor­rific arm injury.

I do wish Whitcomb had dug a little deeper into some of the uncom­fort­able racial ste­reo­types and imagery that are demon­strated in a couple of the GLOW clips. In one quick scene, we see the “Big Bad Mama” char­acter, which is little more than a bor­der­line offensive “big and loud” black cari­ca­ture, in the ring with two other people wearing crude white masks that I assume were a Klan ref­er­ence, while another scene depicts a group of vil­lains in Nazi-like attire and deliv­ering a familiar salute. I under­stand that the show was about as low-brow as enter­tain­ment gets and that the mid-to-late 80s were a less PC era, but the fact that these scenes are shown within about a minute of a ref­er­ence to GLOW being whole­some, family enter­tain­ment begs fur­ther exploration.

Where the film really excels is toward the end, leading up to a reunion involving many of the former wrest­lers. Most of them haven’t been in con­tact with each other since the show went off the air and the women, who almost unan­im­ously look back on their GLOW exper­i­ences fondly, touch­ingly recon­nect with old friends and co-workers with whom they share a unique bond. The doc­u­mentary res­on­ates strongest emo­tion­ally, how­ever, during the por­tions fea­turing Emily Dole, who played the “Mt. Fiji” char­acter. Now con­fined to a nursing home due to dia­betes and severe knee prob­lems exacer­bated by her excessive weight, Dole appears to have been hardest hit by GLOW’s abrupt can­cel­la­tion. Clearly, she feels like her years on the show, during which she was one of its most pop­ular char­ac­ters, were the best of her life. I won’t give too much away — suf­fice it to say, there are some scenes at the film’s end with her that are sure to tug at the viewer’s heart.

Official site of the film

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