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Friday, July 13, 2018

Review: 350 Days

Pro Wrestling from Every Angle

By Chris Sabga

"350 Days" refers to the amount of time the average professional wrestler spent on the road and away from his family. Driving many miles, working through multiple injuries, and combating loneliness, fatigue, and problems at home, they wrestled every night of the week and "twice on Sundays." The highlight of their day was often those few minutes inside the ring. But that wasn't the only thing they had to look forward to! After the matches, they had instant access to drugs, alcohol, and willing women known as "ring rats."

This documentary assembles a who's who of great names to discuss the professional wrestling lifestyle from every perspective:

Tito Santana • "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff • Greg "The Hammer" Valentine • Bret "The Hitman" Hart • Wendi Richter • George "The Animal" Steele • Don Fargo • "Superstar" Billy Graham • Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka • Bruce Allen (Promoter) • JJ Dillon • Ox Baker • The Masked Superstar (Bill Eadie) • Lanny Poffo • Abdullah the Butcher • "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase • Gangrel • Angelo "King Kong" Mosca • Farmer Pete • The Wolfman (Willie Farkas) • Howard Jerome • "Butcher" Paul Vachon • Angelo Savoldi • Stan Hansen • Gino Caruso • Ricky Johnson • Doink the Clown (Ray Apollo) • Lex Luger • Paul Lazenby • Slick (Ken Johnson) • Davey O'Hannon • "Pretty Boy" Larry Sharpe • Ric Drasin • "Cowboy" Johnny Mantell • "Bushwhacker" Luke Williams • Gene LeBell • Don Leo Jonathan • Marty Jannetty • Nikolai Volkoff

Filmed over five years, a staggering number of wrestlers were interviewed for "350 Days." Several of them are no longer with us.

The movie often switches from the silly to the surreal to the sublime, sometimes in the same scene.

One of the highlights: footage featuring the "crazed" Ox Baker preparing a meal in his own kitchen. Was it entirely necessary to include five full minutes of this? Possibly not. But I can't lie: I wouldn't have been in the least bit disappointed if the rest of the film consisted of cooking lessons from Ox Baker.

Here's a picture of Ox Baker, in case you need a visual aid:

This alone would have make Ox Baker a star again – it's a shame he didn't live to see it.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum, there's a touching segment with "Superstar" Billy Graham (not the preacher) discussing his health issues. Known for his outrageous catchphrases, such as "the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour," Graham puts aside the bluster of his bombastic character to discuss his battles with Hepatitis C and the young lady who died, which allowed him to live by receiving her liver.

However, Abdullah the Butcher has been accused of infecting other wrestlers with Hepatitis C (not Graham) by using an old razor blade to draw blood in matches – a common, if barbaric, practice in wrestling – but the movie completely ignores his irresponsible, reckless, negligent, and potentially murderous actions. A similar blind eye is also turned to "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, who allegedly beat his girlfriend to death in 1983. (He was arrested and indicted in 2015, 32 years later. He died in 2017.)

At first, I was distracted by these omissions. The endearing scene of a loving, nurturing "Superfly" feeding and petting adorable farm animals takes on an almost dreamlike quality. People are complicated! But I can also partly understand why the filmmakers decided to shy away from spotlighting such shocking stories. The darker side of these wrestlers' personal live might have overshadowed the rest of the film and obscured the overall purpose of the documentary.

Despite that, there is still plenty of bad behavior to go around.

Bret "The Hitman" Hart spent his entire career portraying a virtuous "Canadian hero." The revelations in "350 Days" won't be surprising to anyone who read his voluminous almost-600-page tome, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. But for the average fan, this film will definitely expose a different side of "The Hitman." Anyone who has listened to any recent Bret Hart interviews will already know that he's honest to a fault (potentially the result of a stroke he suffered in 2002). Here, his "Canadian hero" persona is laid bare. In one startling speech, he practically endorses cocaine by fondly reminiscing about the drug while going out of his way to point out that it did not impair him. He claimed to retain everything he ever learned from veteran wrestlers during those powdery bonding sessions. Later, he concedes that drug testing has been good for the industry. "The Hitman" also makes no apologies – and has no regrets – for indulging in extramarital affairs during his career. He said he made many friendships that way. Wrestling is indeed a hard life – as this documentary points out – but coming from the mouth of Bret Hart, you would think he was a combat veteran who served in two World Wars. Then again, "The Hitman" has always taken himself very seriously – as demonstrated in another excellent wrestling documentary, 1998's "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows."

What makes the movie so fascinating is the often contradictory opinions expressed by different wrestlers on a wide variety of topics. For example, one common belief expressed in the film is that the wrestling business ruins marriages. Lanny Poffo, however, is quick to dispel that notion.

"350 Days" is a revealing look at the human beings behind the wrestling personas. "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff expresses regrets about placing wrestling and money ahead of his family and laments that he can barely move his arm after years of abusing his body in the wrestling ring. "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka somehow come across as calm, clear, and coherent – a far cry from one of his wild "Superfly" wrestling promos that were nearly impossible to decipher – while "Rocker" Marty Jannetty is sadly almost unintelligible.

The sheer breadth of wrestlers interviewed in "350 Days" is ultimately what gives this documentary its considerable depth.