Documentary Review: The Rise and Fall of WCW (2009)

Release Date: August 25th, 2009
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Cast: Magnum T.A., Arn Anderson, Ricky Steamboat, Lady Blossom, Jim Crockett Jr., David Crockett, Ric Flair, Bill Goldberg, Mike Graham, Shane Helms, Chris Jericho, John Kap, Joe Laurinaitis, Dean Malenko, Tyler Mane, Vince McMahon, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Dusty Rhodes, Jim Ross, Dr. Harvey Schiller, Michael P.S. Hayes, Kevin Sullivan, Bill Watts, Paul Wight, Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan

WWE, 105 Minutes

Review:

I recently revisited and reviewed The Rise and Fall of ECW documentary and I really enjoyed seeing it again. So, I thought that going back and watching the WCW version of their rise and fall would also be a good experience.

It was and it was neat going back down memory lane, as I lived through just about everything covered in the film, going way back to the National Wrestling Alliance and Jim Crockett eras up through Vince McMahon buying WCW and absorbing them into the WWE.

My only real complaints about this are the same complaints I have for a lot of WWE produced documentaries.

Firstly, it’s told from the WWE’s perspective and isn’t always 100 percent accurate and without bias. I mean, that’s fine and understandable, as long as the gist of the story told is pretty close to what happened and in this case, I feel that it is.

Secondly, this would have benefited from more interviews with more of the people that lived through these experiences. WWE tends to leave out the opinions and insight of wrestlers and executives that they have beefs with and thus, these things are typically only presented by talent that is on good terms with Vince McMahon.

Additionally, this, like many WWE documentaries, features a lot of archive interviews clipped and edited into the larger tapestry. While that’s fine, it’d be nicer hearing more direct answers and insight from guys like Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan, as opposed to just using material from old interviews.

Needless to say, this is well edited, well presented and it goes through the timeline quite superbly. While not on the same level as the ECW documentary, this still gives you a pretty solid history on World Championship Wrestling and a clear understanding of how it was mismanaged into oblivion.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other WWE documentaries on the legacies of past wrestling promotions.

TV Review: WWE Ruthless Aggression (2020)

Original Run: February 16th, 2020 – current
Cast: John Cena, Dave Bautista, Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, Vince McMahon, Jim Cornette

WWE, 4 Episodes (so far), 41-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the Attitude Era, WWE gave us the Ruthless Aggression Era. It’s never been considered as popular but it seems like some people have gotten nostalgic about it in recent years. Maybe that’s because the WWE has evolved into a pretty shitty product since the advent of the PG Era and has never really recovered. I’d say that has more to do with lack of real competition and Vince McMahon losing touch with pop culture, as he gets older, but still won’t give some control to other people who might steer the ship better.

That being said, I’m honestly not a big fan of the Ruthless Aggression Era, as it really started to be where my interest in WWE began its decline. That’s not a knock against guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar or Dave Bautista, it just is what it is because even if these guys are great, they just didn’t have the same sort of electricity as The Rock, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho or even Triple H.

I still wanted to check out this weekly documentary series, however, because I typically dig stuff like this regardless of the era it features. Mainly, I like the wrestling business and industry, which is why I can actually stomach things like Total Divas in small doses.

For the most part, this is entertaining television but it does the same crap that most WWE produced pieces about WWE do: it tells a revisionist history because McMahon is always trying to control whatever narrative comes out of his company and he underestimates the intelligence of his longtime viewers and thinks that they don’t remember certain details.

I guess for modern fans who didn’t live through this era, this might come across as compelling, solid, documentary television. It’s certainly well produced, well edited and presented like a top notch production on par with some of the stuff ESPN puts out but it feels like WWE is trying to write a more colorful and interesting history than what reality actually is.

The Ruthless Aggression Era was a step down from the Attitude Era but it appears as if WWE wants to convince its modern audience that it saved a company in decline.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other WWE documentary television series.

Documentary Review: Beyond the Mat (1999)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1999 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, New Jack, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, Darren Drozdov, Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Dennis Stamp, Tony Jones, Mike Modest, Roland Alexander, Dave Meltzer, Chyna, Spike Dudley, Koko B. Ware, Jesse Ventura

Universal Family and Home Entertainment, Imagine Entertainment, Lions Gate Films, 102 Minutes, 108 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I could never get over the fact that guys could beat the crap out of each other in the ring, and be friendly outside of it. Some of Terry’s most famous matches were against a man twenty years his junior: Mick Foley. Over the years, Mick and Terry had traveled the world, setting each other on fire, tossing each other into barbed wire. Yet outside the ring, they were truly at peace with one another.” – Barry W. Blaustein

Considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest wrestling documentary of all-time, it’s almost a crime that this wasn’t, at the very least, nominated for an Academy Award. Watching this all these years later, it still holds up and is damn compelling, top to bottom.

Beyond the Mat is intriguing on just about every level and every story featured in this documentary is well told, well presented and edited into the larger tapestry so neatly that I feel as if this would be a great watch even for those who aren’t all that interested in professional wrestling.

One of the most engaging things about it is that it really shows you the behind the scenes stuff from the WWF corporate offices, as well as what goes down backstage during a massive, flagship pay-per-view event. In this case, the film features the main event of the 1999 Royal Rumble, a brutal “I Quit” match between Mick Foley and The Rock.

That being said, it does feel like some parts of this documentary are heavily sensationalized, like the reactions of Foley’s wife and small kids during the Royal Rumble match. Of course the kids are going to cry when the mother is freaking out in an over the top way when she knows the cameras are on her. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a legitimate reaction but it was definitely captured and then sold to the audience as something much worse than it needed to be.

While it is obvious that this wanted to pull the wool over Vince McMahon’s eyes, initially, it’s fine in that it wanted to expose the darker sides of the business. Those darker sides exist, especially back then, and showing the underbelly beyond the lights and pageantry is why this probably did a lot more good than bad in how the business has evolved and tried to improve over the years since this came out.

Ultimately, this isn’t perfect but it’s damn entertaining.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other professional wrestling documentaries, most notably Wrestling With Shadows.

Documentary Review: Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998)

Release Date: December 20th, 1998
Directed by: Paul Jay
Written by: Paul Jay
Cast: Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Stu Hart, Helen Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Triple H, Brian Pillman, Blade Hart, Julie Hart, Diana Hart, Keith Hart, Tammy Sytch, Georgia Hart, Dave Meltzer, The Honky Tonk Man, Earl Hebner, Vince Russo, Mick Foley, Dustin Rhodes, Pat Patterson, Leon ‘Vader’ White, Ellie Hart, Alison Hart, Michael P.S. Hayes, Savio Vega, Harry Smith

High Road Productions, National Film Board of Canada (NFB), TVOntario, Vidmark/Trimark, 93 Minutes

Review:

Wrestling with Shadows is, hands down, one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen on any subject. Luckily for me, it’s on a subject I love: professional wrestling.

When this came out back in the late ’90s, it was a mega hit! Well, as much as it could be, as Vince McMahon used his influence to try and stop it from being seen. I remember that they did end up broadcasting it on A&E in 1999, which was the first time I saw it.

As a wrestling tape trader in the ’90s, this was one of those holy grail things that was being passed around, as well as the screener copies of 1999’s Beyond the Mat.

For those that don’t know, this was supposed to be a simple documentary about a year in Bret Hart’s life. What it ended up being is an intimate peek into one of the biggest scandals in professional wrestling history: The Montreal Screwjob.

The documentary is more intimate than most on the subject of professional wrestling. It truly delves into the personal lives of not just Bret Hart but the entire Hart Family. While Bret is certainly the focus, we get to hear from several family members and even see what family dinners looked like. We get an intimate look at the famous Hart Family Dungeon and even get to spend time with his parents, most notably his mother Helen. The Hart matriarch talks about how she truly feels about the wrestling business and how what was only supposed to be temporary became her family’s all-consuming legacy.

Beyond that, this starts to tell the story about how WWE owner Vince McMahon offered Bret Hart a twenty year contract worth a ton of money and how he decided he needed to renege on that deal and let Bret Hart leave for greener financial pastures with Ted Turner’s WCW, the company that was taking WWE to the woodshed at the time.

Eventually, this all leads to Vince lying to Bret and double-crossing him in front of the world.

The last twenty minutes or so of this documentary are damn compelling and it still holds up, twenty-three years after the incident.

Whether you give a crap about professional wrestling or not, this is still a fascinating documentary that started out as one thing and then evolved into something much, much more.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other wrestling documentaries but most notably Beyond the Mat and 350 Days.

Documentary Review: The Rise and Fall of ECW (2004)

Also known as: The Rise+Fall of ECW (stylized on DVD box art)
Release Date: November 14th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Written by: Paul Heyman
Cast: Paul Heyman, Eric Bischoff, Vince McMahon, Taz, Chris Jericho, Jerry Lawler, The Dudley Boyz, Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, Spike Dudley, Lance Storm, Ron Buffone, Dawn Marie, Rhino, Stevie Richards, Rey Misterio Jr.

WWE, 170 Minutes

Review:

I remember buying and watching this documentary the day that it came out. I haven’t seen it since but looking at it all these years later, it’s especially cool because it was made just three years after the demise of Extreme Championship Wrestling, so everything discussed here is still really fresh in everyone’s memory.

ECW is the promotion that got me back into wrestling when I was high school aged. At the time, I had outgrown WWF, as it remained cheesy, goofy and gimmicky. Plus, WCW was in a weird state of change, which eventually led to a better product for awhile. However, in ECW, I found a promotion that was much more adult, much more extreme and yet, featured some of the best wrestling on the planet.

I used to go to the shows when they traveled down to Florida from their home base of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Going to those shows gave me some of the best professional wrestling memories of my life. Still, to this day, my experiences from going to ECW shows hasn’t been matched. But I was also impressionable, it was the ’90s and edgy boi shit was the male youth culture of the time.

This documentary is nearly three hours but it covers just about everything that happened in ECW from the beginning up until it all fell apart. The stories shared are pretty great and give you several different perspectives.

For wrestling fans, especially in regards to the historical side of the business, this is a must watch. In fact, this documentary was such a massive success that it pushed WWE into resurrecting ECW for a short time. Granted, that version was nothing like the original but two of the three pay-per-views were quite good.

Overall, this is a damn cool documentary that doesn’t feel nearly as long as it is because the subject matter is interesting and the interviews are informative and help paint the picture well.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other WWE documentaries on the legacies of past wrestling promotions.

Documentary Review: The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA (2006)

Release Date: November 21st, 2006
Directed by: Kevin Dunn
Cast: Eric Bischoff, Nick Bockwinkle, Jim Brunzell, Greg Gagne, Verne Gagne, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Mike Graham, Bobby Heenan, Larry Hennig, Hulk Hogan, Jack Lanza, Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon, Baron Von Raschke, Dusty Rhodes, Michael Hayes, Bob Windham

WWE, 109 Minutes

Review:

I was too young to experience the American Wrestling Association in its heyday. However, I was old enough to see how well its talent did on a larger, worldwide stage once Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation became a global phenomenon in the mid-’80s. A lot of the WWF’s success was built off of the talent that established themselves in Verne Gagne’s AWA.

Being produced by WWE, one might think that this has a slant to it and while that may be true to some degree, it features interviews with a ton of people from both sides of the conversation. Although, it does mostly feature talent that has worked for both, which makes this feel more honest.

Plus, this includes Verne Gagne and Greg Gagne talking about all the events that led to the fall of the AWA from their perspective. And I guess the coolest thing about this is that it lets Verne talk about it pretty candidly. Sadly, just a few years after this, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Vince McMahon gives his perspective too, which is interesting, especially coming off of all the tales that were told in this documentary.

I think the whole thing is a highpoint though, as it goes through the history of the AWA, discusses its biggest stars and ultimately, how they left and how they contributed to the wrestling business overall.

By the end of this, you leave with a clear understanding that the professional wrestling landscape would have been vastly different if not for the existence and the legacy of the American Wrestling Association.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other WWE historical documentaries.

 

Documentary Review: 350 Days (2018)

Also known as: 350 Days – Legends. Champions. Survivors (DVD title)
Release Date: July 12th, 2018
Directed by: Fulvio Cecere
Cast: Bret Hart, “Superstar” Billy Graham, Greg Valentine, Jimmy Snuka, James J. Dillon, Bill Eadie, Abdullah the Butcher, Ox Baker, Ted DiBiase, David “Gangrel” Heath, Marty Jannetty, Angelo Mosca, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, Lex Luger, Lanny Poffo, Wendi Richter, Larry Sharpe, George “The Animal” Steele

Happy Fish Productions, 108 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty interesting documentary that focuses on a part of the wrestling business that I don’t think has been covered as the sole subject of a documentary before: the travel schedule.

The film lets a few dozen wrestlers discuss their travel schedules over the course of their careers and how it effected them physically, mentally and their lives inside and outside of the ring.

Each wrestler has their own story and almost everything here is pretty cool for fans of the business.

This is presented as talking head interviews edited into a quick paced narrative, keeping things flowing nicely and allowing each of the wrestlers’ stories to build off of one another’s.

I especially like hearing insight from Bret Hart, Lanny Poffo, Greg Valentine, Billy Graham, Wendi Richter and Ted DiBiase.

I don’t think that a lot of people that aren’t fans of the wrestling industry, know or understand how hard a professional wrestler’s schedule and travel can be. This does a good job of explaining it through personal stories.

This isn’t the greatest wrestling documentary out there, but it was still professionally shot, edited and presented and that sets it apart from some of the sloppy ones you may have seen.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent wrestling documentaries.