Previously reviewed on the Rack:
I've always wanted to watch a comprehensive documentary outlining why professional wrestling is different than any other industry in the world, and asking the question of why so many well-known and promising competitors die before reaching the age of 50.
After watching Legends Never Die, I'm still waiting for that.
Don't get me wrong - producer
Stephen Franciosa Jr. (and distributor by Big Vision Entertainment) deserve full marks for effort in this 2006 documentary. Spending three years collecting interviews and information, they find creative ways to get around the fact that they can't show any WWE or TNA-related footage.
For example, they use cartoons, simulated video game battles (courtesy of the infamous Legends Of Wrestling: Showdown game), independent show matches, and even a television documentary from the 1970's about Bruno Sammartino.
They secured brand-new interview footage from top wrestlers from each of the three past generations: Sammartino, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mick Foley. It's hard to complain when they feature two of my three all-time favorites (Piper and Foley), you know? In addition, they have commentary from Missy Hyatt, Dominic DeNucci, Bam Bam Bigelow, Mikey Whipwreck, Balls Mahoney, Gene "No Relation To Suzanne" Petit (better known as Cousin Luke of "Hillbilly Jim and Uncle Elmer" fame), Matt Striker and Chris Candido -- quite a diverse panel.
Still, the issue of premature deaths in wrestling isn't nearly as prominent as it should be -- particularly when you have a DVD cover prominently displaying a dozen deceased wrestlers.
I'm also more than a little puzzled by the structure of this video. Things start with Sammartino and DeNucci organizing a trip to Planet Hollywood in New York. The two Italian-American legends then make phone calls (for the sake of the camera, though): Sammartino to Piper and DeNucci to his prized student Foley (obviously poking fun at the image Foley painted of him in his book Have A Nice Day). The older grapplers order the.... slightly younger grapplers to show up at Planet Hollywood, of all business, to "talk business".
Fair enough. But then it gets a tad confusing: Sammartino and DeNucci drive into midtown Manhattan, discussing 9/11 and World War Two. Sammartino then goes to Piper's hotel suite, where he's accompanied everywhere by some teenager in a Piper-style "Frats" T-shirt, and Piper is arguing with New York Newsday columnist Steve Jacobson.
Then the four of them ride in a limo and bash Vince McMahon for a while, while getting into heated discussions with Jacobson about the death of Owen Hart. Fine -- now we're at least getting somewhere.
Only we're not; not in any meaningful way, at least. We're introduced to indy wrestlers and others who have taken unnecessary risks to get ahead in the business. Again, this all helps to get to a final destination, but they never take it quite far enough.
By the time they get to Planet Hollywood, the only real "business" anyone has to discuss is DeNucci chastising Foley for being late (he had his car towed - and even brought a receipt to show his skeptical old teacher). But they never really addressed the "business" these guys were supposed to discuss.
Why they spent so much time on these little things at the expense of the main issue is just baffling.
A funny aside: after a segment about Whipwreck and his hardcore legacy in ECW, they cut to Sammartino, who looks straight at the camera and asks who the hell Whipwreck is. And for someone in his 70's at the time this was filmed, Sammartino is tack-sharp and up on a lot of the modern wrestling product, even if he doesn't much care for it.
One thing I DID want to see more of was a debate featuring Raven and other "modern" stars against Sammartino and his golden-aged cronies (including one guy named Davey O' Hannon who comes across as particularly bitter about today's wrestling scene). Even though this had little to do with the documentary's theme, the little bit I saw was interesting enough and would have made for a decent "extra" on the DVD.
This documentary could have been so much more than it was. Especially in a post-Benoit world (and where another dozen wrestlers have passed on from seemingly less-than-natural causes), it would be great for someone to tell the story, independent of WWE,but not in the ignorant manner that CNN, Fox, or a certain dirtsheet have been doing in recent years.
Overall, I can't in good conscience recommend Legends Never Die. If you want a straightforward documentary about what the wrestling business is really like, Beyond The Mat still holds up more than a decade after it was released.
Canadian Bulldog has been writing about
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World Wrestling Insanity
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