Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Extreme Championship Wrestling

Directors: Kevin Dunn
Distributor: WWE Home Video
Released: 11/04

Featured Talent
Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eric Bischoff, Ron Buffone (ECW TV Director), Dawn Marie, Tommy Dreamer, Bubba Ray Dudley, D-Von Dudley, Spike Dudley, Mick Foley, Eddy Guerrero, Paul Heyman, Chris Jericho, Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon, Nunzio (Little Guido), Rhino, Stevie Richards, Al Snow, Lance Storm, Tazz, Rob Van Dam

The Good
Perhaps no WWE documentary has and will have the impact that this one did. This seemed like a way to get some ECW library footage out there and gauge whether or not to release more. The highlight though is a lengthy documentary that discusses the legacy of the eight-year company known as Extreme Championship Wrestling. Paul Heyman is he superstar here, his passion, vision and sorrow all come across. The first part shows ECW's development from just another indy to one with unique personalities, hardcore wrestling, highly involved fans and great booking. Then it shows how it really shocked the system. Although the violence and controversial angles are what it became known for, ECW featured excellent straight wrestling, international stars, international styles and an avenue for talent to expose their real abilities. From superstars like Steve Austin and Mick Foley to guys with a lot left in the tank like Bam Bam Bigelow and Sid, ECW provided a place to show their wares in a way that helped them get bigger gigs. Heyman's ability to accentuate positives and mask negatives is covered and demonstrated quite a bit. That really shows the recent flaws of the WWE, it is too scripted and too neat to allow for the spontaneity that pro-wrestling thrives upon. It also tells how their success - getting onto syndication, pay-per-view and finally primetime television were so vital to their survival and success. Unfortunately, Heyman could not manage the books and it led to the eventual death. This offers a fair look at the legacy of ECW and while Heyman and former stars sing its praises, Eric Bischoff and even Vince McMahon are there to prevent it from being too overblown. ECW never was and probably never could have been the #2 pro-wrestling company, they had a niche audience and probably lacked mainstream appeal, yet they unquestionably changed the landscape of pro-wrestling in the US. This DVD ended up being so popular that it spawned a "One Night Stand" pay-per-view and later an ECW brand.

The Bad
Like any rise and fall story, this has some doses of bitterness, nostalgic sentiments and fuzzy memories. Paul Heyman, Tommy Dreamer and several others genuinely loved ECW and everything it was and provided them. There are some inaccuracies that are glaring. One is that ECW was this complete split from the old, which it certainly was not. If anything, it was a return to the old. It used blood and brawling like pro-wrestling in the late 60s and 70s had to combat the style of TV pro-wrestling from the 1950s. However, there was still plenty of excellent wrestling featured and even veteran talent, specifically Terry Funk. Second issue is the romanticizing of ECW. This company, like any company, put out some garbage, but often dressed it up. Their first pay-per-view, Barely Legal, was not very good, yet it was so well hyped, so well remembered and so important that its lack of quality is overlooked. That illustrates the biggest problem with this documentary. One feels as if they are hearing half of the story. Since they only used WWE contracted talent (other than Ron Buffone), the contributions of people like Raven, Shane Douglas, The Sandman, Sabu and even Terry Funk are not fully appreciated. Others, like Steve Corino, Justin Credible, Jerry Lynn and even Tajiri are basically left out of the ECW story. For those perspectives, there is the documentary Forever Hardcore, which is excellent at filling in some of the gaps left by this WWE effort.

The Rating: ****1/2

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