Synopsis: CARD SUBJECT TO CHANGE: PRO WRESTLING’S UNDERGROUND takes you deep inside the underground world of professional wrestling. This compelling film follows several wrestlers as they make their way through local VFW halls, high school gyms and Elks’ lodges grinding it out on the independent circuit where the payouts can range from $5 to $20 per match. Some do it for the love of the sport, others desperate to make it big; it is both heart-pounding and heart-wrenching. Tim Disbrow makes his directorial debut as he documents the circuit’s standouts, including: Kevin Sullivan, Michael “Trent Acid” Verdi, Rhett Titus, Sabu, Kamala and Necro Butcher, who made an appearance in the critically-acclaimed film, The Wrestler. Available on DVD July 12, 2011. http://www.cardsubjecttochange.com
Card Subject To Change is a documentary that gives a rare glimpse into the life of independent wrestling through the eyes of a promoter, rising young stars, and veterans who have wrestled in front of many thousands of fans for the big promotions. It marks the directorial debut of a young man named Tim Disbrow who said his goal when making this documentary was to “show the struggle that these dedicated athletes must endure in order to become successful in this strange and unorthodox industry.” With that as his goal, I can pretty safely say that he succeeded.
This documentary is the culmination of almost four years worth of filming, from January 2006 to November 2009. While it features a lot of people, it focuses the most on three: Johnny Falco (promoter of the east coast promotion National Wrestling Superstars), Kevin Sullivan (veteran wrestler best known for his long tenure with World Championship Wrestling), and Michael “Trent Acid” Verdi (at the time of filming, considered to be one of the top talents on the Indy scene).
In addition to those individuals, the documentary also gives decent coverage to Rhett Titus (now signed with Ring of Honor), Lacey Von Erich, Necro Butcher, Sabu, Kamala, Percy Pringle III (Paul Bearer), “Superstar” Billy Graham, and a guy who competed in his first pro wrestling match named Sgt. Jimmy Storm. Throughout the documentary, there’s comments from notable wrestling personalities like Bill Apter, Jim Cornette, Tom Prichard, JJ Dillion, Terry Funk, and several others. All of these guys lend a certain amount of credibility to the project as guys who have been a part of the biggest promotions either as on-air talent or behind the scenes.
Of all the guys covered, I enjoyed Kevin Sullivan’s time the most. I’ve always been a fan of Kevin Sullivan, whether he was with the Varsity Club, or the evil Taskmaster heading up the infamous Dungeon of Doom. I haven’t seen him since the last year of WCW, and the thing is the guy is in fantastic shape and judging by the footage shown in the film of his matches with NWS, he can still go in the ring despite being in his late fifties at the time of filming. It was really good to see him again, especially in such great shape. I also enjoyed the look at promoter Johnny Falco a lot too, since that’s a perspective you almost never see. Here we get to see Johnny talking to talent, setting up shows, and even going around to grocery stores to hang up flyers to promote his upcoming shows.
What wasn’t especially pleasant however was the parts featuring Michael Verdi, better known as Trent Acid. I’ve long been familiar with the work of Trent Acid and knew his story going into the film, but the interviews conducted with him were especially sad when you already know how his story ends. Here’s a young guy who loved the wrestling business and started to get hooked on hardcore drugs like heroin. He survived an overdose, did jail time, and then in an interview said he had been clean for 11 months and that he’d be around as long as he wanted to be around. Earlier in the doc, Johnny Falco was talking about Trent Acid and about how talented he was, but that he had personal demons that Falco hoped he could shake and that he wouldn’t end up as just another statistic. Unfortunately, several months after the filming of the documentary, Michael Verdi died of a drug overdose on June 18, 2010 at the age of 29 and was posthumously inducted into the Hardcore Hall of Fame less than a month later. These parts are easily the saddest, simply for the fact that this young talented guy was given a second chance at life and didn’t learn and still ended up being another statistic.
Card Subject to Change also features the last interview with women’s wrestling legend, “Sensational” Sherri Martel who talked about how she loved performing on every single show whether big or small. Sherri of course died of an accidental drug overdose on June 15, 2007 at the age 49 a little over a year after being inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame. A note at the end of the film says that the documentary is in memoriam of both Michael Verdi and Sherri Martel.
The main documentary last around 87 minutes, and features archival footage of The Original Shiek, Abdullah the Butcher, Chris Candido, and several others. It also features cameo appearances and Indy match footage of King Kong Bundy, Spike Dudley, BG James (Road Dogg), Billy Gunn, Danny Doring, Tom Brandi, Nick “Eugene” Dinsmore, Bobby Heenan, Crowbar, Axl Rotten, Balls Mahoney, Orlando Jordan, Simon Diamond, Ophidian, Frightmare, and more.
If you’re a fan of professional wrestling, then you will definitely enjoy this rare look inside the world of Indy wrestling especially in terms of the bigger names. To a degree, it might as well be “The Wrestler” documentary and I mean that in the best possible way. Tim Disbrow and the entire really did a good service to all wrestling fans (and any non-fans that will watch) with this film that doesn’t form any opinions about pro-wrestling or try to paint it in a negative light. It’s actually a very PRO-pro-wrestling film that treats the business and the performers with the respect it and they deserve.
They say it’s “real and raw,” and it is. At one point, a young Indy wrestler that goes by the name Corvis Fear actually injects himself with steroids and says it makes him feel good because it makes him look good, and that there’s nothing wrong with that. The filmmaker just presented this as it was, with no negative slant, and I respected that. At the end of the doc, a blurb stated that Corvis Fear says he no longer uses steroids. And of course things get gory with Necro Butcher’s piece (and Necro did play himself in the film The Wrestler). And let me just say that I like Necro Butcher. He seems like a good, cool guy. I don’t like that style of ultra-hardcore wrestling (garbage wrestling in my opinion), but I definitely respect and appreciate that he does the things he does to entertain folks no matter how small the crowd. That’s passion and dedication.
The tagline for the film is, “There are thousands of pro wrestlers in the U.S. Only a few hundred are signed to contracts at any one time. This is the story of the rest.” It’s a very good story with highs and lows and stark reminder by Sabu that a wrestler “starts in the opening match, and ends in the opening match.” Independent wrestling is filled with hungry young and rising stars who are itching to make it to the big time, talent that are in between stints for the major promotions, and the old veteran legends who still perform on these small shows because they simply love the wrestling business. A guy like Kamala can wrestle these small shows and the fans will love it and enjoy it just as much as he does.
The DVD, which is available July 12th, also features a number of special features that are listed below:
Lacey Von Erich
Low Life Louie
Shockwave The Robot
Short Sleeve Sampson
NWS Wrestling School
Of all the special features, I enjoyed the Promo Clips the most. These are short promos cut by the wrestlers listed above to promote the Card Subject to Change film. All of these are really good, and some funny, and it was great to see Terri Runnels again. But my favorite of these was easily Bobby Heenan. Even with all the issues he’s had with his health and throat cancer, he’s still one of the most entertaining and funny individuals shown. You can’t help but smile and laugh with The Brain as he cuts his promo.
The deleted scenes are a nice little bonus, and of them I enjoyed the Nigerian Nightmares scene the most. But honestly, all of these were below par and I can easily see why they were deleted from the final documentary. The outtakes are short, but fine. There’s some funny stuff there and a lot of actually devoted to Lacey Von Erich being goofy, but I smiled so I suppose its a plus.
All in all, I really enjoyed watching the whole package and the probably two hours, give or take a few minutes, really flew by. It’s a great documentary about pro wrestling’s underground that doesn’t get enough love or attention but should. Wrestling fan’s buy it and watch it, and appreciate what these men and women do to entertain even on the smallest of shows and for some for very little money. All wrestling fans need to watch this film. And watch the credits too, that’s where you see the old timers talk about what Card Subject To Change means.
Card Subject to Change gets a three out of five: GOOD.
* DVD provided for free by Cinema Libre Studio for review.