As World Wrestling Entertainment has built and cultivated the most impressive tape library in professional wrestling history, creating a polished, well-produced documentary without the use of their footage is a nearly impossible task. For Ellbow Productions, the task was doubly hard given their subject (Jim Crockett Promotions/Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling) had not operated since 1988. Sure, you can find a few people here and there with fan-cam footage of Extreme Championship Wrestling but JCP?
Where others have failed in an attempt to mimic a standard WWE documentary “Jim Crockett Promotions: The Good Old Days” has succeed with a winning blend of historic fan-cam footage, engaging high resolution pictures and well-shot, well-lit, engaging interviews — creating perhaps the best non-WWE wrestling documentary since “Beyond the Mat”.
“JCP: The Glory Days” isn’t going to blow your mind with new stories or anecdotes if you’re a hardcore wrestling fan. You know the story and it hasn’t changed. They were swallowed up by their own greed of expansion and overspending; Magnum TA was supposed to be huge but got into a car wreck, etc. You know all the facts, but that’s not what this documentary was about. It was about telling the story in the most complete, engaging way possible, which it did.
I mentioned fan-cam footage and that to me is absolutely what sets this documentary above its competition and even Ellow Production’s own The Dynamite Kid – A Matter of Pride. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Ellbow was able to acquire the licensing rights to never-before-seen handheld/fan-cam footage from George Pantas, a videographer that lived in Virginia and was able to shoot ringside throughout JCP’s early era.
The footage was shot from the mid-70s to early-80s and stands out immediately. This is fan-cam footage in that it’s not perfectly shot or lit even reasonably well, but that adds to its charm. Especially given the subject matter and time period at the time, this footage helps tell a story of a rising wrestling promotion well on its way to a national spotlight.
Wrestling documentaries are nothing without engaging interview subjects and The Good Old Days succeeds greatly in that. WWE has regressed tremendously in this department, as the likes of Cody Rhodes and The Miz have recently waxed poetic about the great glory days of wrestling (when they were 5). Not in this documentary, all the heavy hitters are here: Ric Flair (shot in 2008), Dusty Rhodes (previously shot), Jim Crockett Jr., David Crockett, Jim Cornette, George Scott, PWTorch’s Bruce Mitchell and Mike Mooneyham among others.
The Good Old Days is without narration so it’s up to these men to drive the story, which they do amazingly well. The story follows a clear path and doesn’t divert at any point, which is a true testament to not only great interviews but also fantastic editing. Everything follows a nearly perfect chronological order, which makes this documentary fell more like a book, which is a real positive.
The interviews themselves are shot quite well, if you read my “Barbed Wire City” review my biggest gripe was the lack of polish in these shots. As someone who has produced video most of my adult life (all five years of it), I just can’t stand thrown together video, especially if you’re producing a documentary that you want me to pay for. An unlit backdrop or the corner of a building isn’t going to cut it. High-definition video couldn’t be easier to shoot these days and The Good Old Days succeeds quite well in this aspect.
Every interview subject save for Flair and Dusty’s previously recorded shoot interviews are shot with production values in mind. Interviews were backlight, well mic’ed and shot using high-quality HD quality video, which is necessary in 2013. For whatever reason, the producers decided to put a halo effect on all the video creating blurry corners which I initially thought was a smudge on the side of my TV before realizing it was in fact an editing technique, I’m not sure why they did it but it certainly doesn’t ruin the documentary.
Music is also a key to a good documentary and though Ellbow Productions opted to use “free” royalty-free music, they chose the best (Kevin MacLeod/http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/). I’ve used MacLeod’s work in almost all of my productions over the past few years and it’s the most professional background music you’ll get for, well, free. I recognized some tracks I’ve used previously but the common viewer wouldn’t be able to tell. The music is subtle and fits the mood at all points, it’s a definitely plus where some documentary’s like the “The Last of McGuiness” and “Barbed Wire City” have really suffered.
The story, as mentioned, is nothing most in-depth wrestling fans don’t already know. There is no narration so the entire story is told through interviews and a few graphic elements. It begins talking about “Big” Jim Crockett Sr.’s humble beginnings promoting minor league baseball, plays but most importantly, his go-to cash-cow professional wrestling. It moves into highlighting the tag teams of the era and Sr.’s love of classic tag team wrestlers before delving into the various booking changes at the beginning of the promotion’s history including John Ringley and George Scott. The Good Old Days goes very in-depth with the famed plane crash that almost ended Ric Flair’s career, the details on Rhodes moving into a booking role, getting a timeslot on TBS, national expansion, Black Sunday (Vince McMahon and WWF buying George Championship Wrestling’s timeslot), the Four Horsemen, the negatives of overexpansion and much more.
I don’t want to go over the whole story here, but trust me, it’s awesome and it’s essentially akin to reading a well-researched, well-documented book about history of Jim Crockett Promotions. There is no motive, no narrative really, just the history and story of Jim Crockett Promotions. The closest WWE-produced relative would be The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling which did an equally fantastic job chronically the history of a pro wrestling promotion without a lot of the fluff and over dramatization some documentaries are prone too.
If you’re looking for flashy menus and mastered footage of Jim Crockett Promotions, look elsewhere, you aren’t going to get that with “Jim Crockett Promotions: The Glory Days”. If you’re looking for concise, detailed storytelling on the history of one of the country’s most successful professional wrestling promotions, this is the documentary for you. The combination of above-average production standards and a lack of motive makes this documentary one of the best wrestling documentaries you will ever see and perhaps the best non-WWE documentary since “Beyond the Mat”.
Purchase the three-disc set at http://www.highspots.com/p/crockett-doc.html.