Dot Net DVD Review: Barbed Wire City - The Unauthorized Story of Extreme Championship Wrestling - How does it stack up against the other ECW documentaries?
By Will Pruett
This is not a happy story. There is no bright and shiny ending. No one triumphs. No one actually achieves their long-term goal. This is not a story of a plucky upstart eventually dominating an industry. This is the story of a group of men giving everything to an entity they believed in. This is the story of outcasts coming together and changing a stale art form. This is the story of a group of people doing whatever they can to please an insatiable crowd. This is a story of excess. This is the story of Extreme Championship Wrestling and it is exquisitely told.
I did not see the need for another ECW documentary. I've seen them all and I know most of the stories. I know about the struggles to get on pay-per-view, the way TNN screwed them, Paul Heyman skipping paychecks, and everything else. I know the stories and anecdotes. This documentary presents the story of ECW through the people who lived it. Not just the wrestlers, but the fans it meant everything to and the journalists who covered it. Barbed Wire City presents a more human and complete story of ECW than any presented before it.
Directed by filmmakers John Philapavage and Kevin Kiernan, the documentary consists of interviews originally recorded in the year 2001 shortly after ECW went out of business, footage of matches and conferences from fan cam video tapes, newsletter headlines, and new interviews and footage recorded centering around the first Extreme Reunion event. It was funded by a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 to make something out of the footage recorded many years ago.
Although this is most likely the last major ECW documentary, it was the first to record its interviews. Most of them were recorded just after ECW closed its doors. Balls Mahoney even expresses doubt as to ECW's demise in one very telling interview. The emotion and the memories are fresh in this documentary. It comes off raw, as opposed to WWE's ECW feature, which often felt rehearsed and over-discussed.
One major difference between this and the other ECW documentaries is the prominence of the wrestling media and fans in it. ECW was never just about the wrestlers. It was about the fans (both pleasing them and being completely honest with them). There was a community around the promotion and the interviews with Straw Hat Guy and Tony Lewis help to establish just how important the community was.
The media interviews also help to enlighten the true history of ECW. While the wrestlers and the fans have their own versions of every story, the wrestling media often helped to keep ECW honest. Bringing the reporters who covered the promotion from its inception to its demise provided a baseline of truth, as opposed to spin. On the flip side, the documentary often relies too heavily on the media to tell stories, as opposed to the wrestlers who lived them.
The omissions in this documentary had to do with access. Paul Heyman declined to be interviewed, although many clips of him from various panels were shown. The public Heyman was certainly outspoken, but honesty was not his strong point. Private interviews with Heyman, especially just after ECW had closed its doors, would have been amazing. A reflective Heyman in 2012 would have been even better. Without interviews from Heyman and others, the stories still work. This issue isn't damning.
What this documentary tries to do that the others don't, and what makes it work, is tell the stories of the real people involved. Instead of focussing on a movement or a revolution (it actually debunks the idea of ECW as a revolution), it focuses on specific people and their love for the promotion. It doesn't glamorize their stories, but it justifies them. Axl Rotten and Balls Mahoney are presented as tragic figures. As we see what they went through to please the fans, we also see the impact it took on them years later.
The footage from Extreme Reunion tells the story of excess taken to the extreme. It shows the wrestlers, once young and passionate, over ten years later. It shows the fans, who loved ECW and felt like it was their own promotion, years after they've lost faith in wrestling altogether. The footage from Extreme Reunion brings the entire story around. It provides the ending ECW itself never had.
Ultimately, this is the most complete story of ECW available. It not only captures what the promotion was, but it also captures why it was special. It brings the real stories of real people to the forefront. The story of ECW wasn't a revolution, it was the story of a bond between wrestlers and an insatiable fan-base. It was a self destructive relationship and it couldn't last long.
Barbed Wire City doesn't sugarcoat the truth about ECW or try to pretend it was more than it was. It presents a real story of real people. These people had problems, pain, heartache, and passion. The magic of this documentary is found in its portrayal of people. It's a great, and very complete story, told well and paced perfectly. I highly recommend anyone with a passing interest or curiosity in ECW watch this film. I also recommend fans who know all the stories watch this film. You may not learn something new, but you will engage with the material you've loved in a whole new way.
This is not a happy story, but it is a necessary one.
For more information on Barbed Wire City check out BarbedWireCity.com. You can also purchase it on iPPV via Highspots.
Have you seen Barbed Wire City? What did you think? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow me and interact on twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
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