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BARBED WIRE CITY: WHAT MAKES THE NEW ECW DOCUMENTARY WORK & WHY IT'S WORTH SEEKING OUT

By Mike Johnson on 2013-04-19 12:37:42

Note from Mike: Just as a matter of full disclosure, before I begin getting into the film, it should be noted I was interviewed in-depth and appear in "Barbed Wire City", the new ECW documentary. So, I want everyone to know that before I start writing because my appearance has nothing to do with what I write. If they decided tomorrow to completely cut me from the film, I would feel the same way. Thank you.

"Barbed Wire City" may go down in history as the final word on Extreme Championship Wrestling, but the reality is that like Woodstock, like Nirvana, like all great trends and moments in life, those who were there will always celebrate them and want to re-live them, while those who weren't will want to look at the moment, analyze it and try and decipher exactly why it meant so much to so many people - even if they themselves think the moment was a waste of time or garbage....so it probably won't be the last word.

To me, that is the magic of "Barbed Wire City." The film doesn't try to come off as the authentic timeline of Extreme Championship Wrestling. The Rise & Fall of ECW did that. It doesn't try to be the alternative counterpoint to what is out there. Forever Hardcore provided that.

No, instead "Barbed Wire City" allows you to dig in and look at why ECW worked in that moment in time, why they went as far as they did and why in the end, it was doomed to fail, despite everyone who loved and lived for the promotion.

There's a lot in the film that celebrates the greatness of ECW, looking at the vibrancy of the product in comparison to what else was out there across the wrestling landscape at the time. There's a lot about the overall passion of those who were with the company, who forced those three letters to mean something much grander than they ever should have been, given the history of independent professional wrestling. All of that is celebrated.

There is also a lot that points out the negatives of ECW, both when it existed and in the dark clouds that followed its demise. I don't believe any other documentary on the business catches up with wrestlers who decimated their own bodies after a decade of abuse, showing first-hand the human emotion of what that damage has done to them. Physically beaten, recovering drug addicts, suicide survivors - "Barbed Wire City" does not gloss over the downward spiral some of these men have found themselves in.

It also doesn't run from bad decisions made from ECW, whether its the Mass Transit incident, how the dying days of the company were handled or how the company found itself trapped after evolving the business, only to find the larger companies raiding talent and concepts - leaving ECW, the company that was once "Not for Everyone" just like everyone else...now a smaller budgeted version of what was being done on national TV by the time they themselves made it to that dance.

The film looks at the unique sub-culture that was ECW fandom, it looks at why those fans were so deeply in live with the product, it looks at the decisions the company made, at the growth and implosion of the company and why a dilapidated building in South Philly is so venerated by anyone who ever stepped into it when the electricity of that unique audience was truly sizzling.

It also provides voices for a lot of personalities that hadn't previously been covered. Eddie Gilbert and the early era of ECW is covered. The first act that truly was a homegrown draw for ECW, in The Public Enemy, Ted Petty and Mike Durham, who both speak, for the first time that I am aware, on the business and their time with ECW. They've long been forgotten in a lot of the ECW discussion over the last decade, partially because they are no longer with us and partially because outside of ECW, they never had great success as stars. The film reminds the viewer of why they were a big part of what the ECW blueprint was. The film also focuses on the ECW fan campaigns run by Strictly ECW with that group's patriarch, Tony Lewis, spotlighted in some of the best scenes of the film.

John Philapavage, who grew up a wrestling fans, has done a lot of media for the film and it's in a lot of ways, his baby. However, I think the real champion of the film is co-Director Kevin Kiernan, who was not a wrestling fan in the least, allowing an unbiased eye to look at the larger narrative, not what would be "right for the wrestling business", so to speak. This isn't a film that parades a certain point of view or asks the audience to side with someone. Kiernan keeps the film from being about wrestling, but more about the personalities and the facts at hand. He should be applauded for that.

"Barbed Wire City" showcases the passion, the mistakes, the defenders, the critics and most of all, the artists and the creative minds that made ECW that unique moment for people in the 1990s. It should be applauded for that.

It allows viewing the audience to decide for themselves, to see where that moment took those who were within it over the course of the decade after ECW was gone and to ponder why and how that moment worked and resonated with people from across all walks of life.

Since watching the film, I've had one recurring thought - and that is that if I could, I would want to sit in a theater full of people who have no idea what ECW was when it existed, just to see their reactions to the journey that was ECW, and the supernova that burned so quickly and died so sadly.

The thoughts and lessons that audience would take from the film would be, to me, as thought-invoking and interesting as the film itself.

But is it the last word? No. There will never be a last word. But, "Barbed Wire City", as a film certainly provides an authentic, honest look on the subject matter. When the subject matter is a genre that is built on lies, politics, smoke, mirrors and eccentric personalities, that itself is a huge victory.  After 12 years, the directors deserve a hell of a victory lap.

"Barbed Wire City" will screen tomorrow in Philadelphia, PA at the former ECW Arena and Saturday 5/4 in New York City at the Gramercy Theater. For more, visit www.BarbedWireCity.com.