Card Subject To Change: Inside Pro Wrestling’s Underground
directed by Tim Disbrow
The stark film The Wrestler summed up the soul-sucking ugliness at the heart of professional wrestling better than anyone had up to that point. Tim Disbrow’s feature debut, Card Subject To Change seems more than a little like an attempt to create a real-life approximation of that (only barely) fictionalized world. Hell, even the goddamn Necrobutcher (maybe you remember him from the deathmatch scene in The Wrestler) gets a short segment in the film, amidst a constellation of other indie grapplers.
And therein lies the problem with Card Subject To Change. Though Disbrow only shadows one indie fed (independent wrestling federation) — New Jersey’s NWS — he still comes into contact with a dizzying array of complex and broken personalities. And of course he can’t help but cram them all in there — I don’t blame him for that. The problem is that with only an hour-and-a-half running time, he can only go into surface detail with a lot of the wrestlers featured. So you get these tantalizing teasers like with the Necrobutcher’s unrepentant human pincushion segment, or a heartbreakingly doped-up Sensational Sherri’s last interview, or Sabu playing the role Terry Funk played in Beyond The Mat, knowing it’s time to hang it up, his body screaming at him to hang it up, but he can’t, he won’t. And there’s a whole host of other wrestlers glimpsed, some on the way down, some on the way up, along with surreal cameos of formerly well-known “superstars” biding their time in the bush leagues or having one last run, all presided over by cartoonishly one-dimensional promoter Johnny Falco. And you’re just dying because 60% of these short clips could have easily been expanded into full films on their own. And then sometimes you wish he’d pushed some of the old-timers a little harder, like Kevin Sullivan or Kamala, about what elusive high they’re still chasing, 30 years into their career, in high school gyms and VFW halls.
The one time the film really hits its narrative stride is with the sad story of Trent Acid. In his mid-twenties, Acid had already been wrestling since he was fourteen (love the RHCP t-shirt and black metal makeup in flashback footage), developing a high-flying, innovative style that looks to have influenced Jeff Hardy quite a bit. Unfortunately, he also developed a Hardy-esque taste for hard living. We see him fall hard, attempt to make a comeback, then disappear, attempt a comeback — and then die. And that’s powerful fucking stuff, but why is it intercut with puff pieces on Lacy Von Erich and Sgt. Storm? As an antidote to the sports-entertainment facade presented by the WWE, this movie succeeds. As a serious contender to Beyond the Mat or even some of the in-house WWE docs (the Pillman one, the AWA one), it doesn’t quite hold up.
And leaving the scene with cheeseball, sparkler-toting, Transformer costume-wearing gimmick wrestler Shockwave The Robot on the cutting room floor? Come on! He perfectly epitomizes the absurdist spectacle at the heart of wrestling.
Cinema Libre: www.cinemalibrestudio.com