The words “professional wrestling” typically evoke thoughts of scantily clad, oversized men with femininely long hair tossing one another around. The film G.L.O.W.: The Story of the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling paints a different picture, showing audiences what other thoughts those same words could have conveyed and, for a brief time, did.
“If you’re not watching wrestling, you’re missing a big part of our culture,” says a short-of-breath Phil Donahue after stepping into the ring with some of G.L.O.W.’s finest. The statement couldn’t better reflect the 80s excess that made the show a staple of its time. The first and only of its kind, G.L.O.W. made female wrestling seem more feminine than brutish. With a cast made up of heroes, villains, the sexy and the strongest of women, G.L.O.W. had a little something for everyone, from the child looking for a hero or role model to the channel surfer looking for the best in entertainment. Described as a “Vaudevillian show, mixed with a little SNL mixed with female wrestling,” by wrestler Americana, the show was an amalgamation of comedic skits, athletics and cultural odes, apparent in the costumes, cast-starring commercials and hip hop musical numbers.
This documentary takes viewers into the world behind the fun, a mesh of stories of triumph, aspiration, tragedy and camaraderie. In it, we learn of the intense, often tormenting mentorship from Matt Cimber, the show’s director, whose commentary on the women’s weight and dietary habits often seemed more bullying than inspiring. Viewers are also shown the strict lifestyle pushed onto the wrestlers, a set of curfews, rules about who could hang out with whom and fines for misbehaving. “They didn’t want us to have a life outside of G.L.O.W.,” assesses Lightning, one of the many wrestlers featured in the documentary.
But the documentary’s tone is far from tragic. As implicated by the show’s content and its effect on viewers, G.L.O.W. was a good time, one of the best in the lives of many of the wrestlers that made it such a hit. The audience can see this in the affectionate way many of the interview subjects describe their time spent with the cast and production team as well as the photos of parties and backstage hangouts that get a good amount of screen time. The nostalgia inspired by the making of this film led to a cast reunion, the first since the show’s final broadcast in 1990. Included in the documentary, this gathering allows viewers to see how lasting the bonds described by those interviewed truly were. The cast’s emotional reactions carry the audience throughout G.L.O.W. When their tones change, the film’s overall feel does as well, effectively leading viewers from beginning to end both smoothly and quickly. Because of this, not a single documented event feels abrupt, and the world that G.L.O.W. portrays feels as if it momentarily becomes a part of your own. After seeing it, the words “professional wrestling,” might bring an entirely new thought to mind.
G.L.O.W has been making the festival circuit and just won the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary at the 14th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival.