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Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows (Canadian International Pictures) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows (Canadian International Pictures) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Canadian International Pictures
    Released on: March 28th, 2023.
    Director: Paul Jay
    Cast: Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, Steve Austin, Blade Hart, Helen Hart, Julie Hart, Owen Hart, Stu Hart
    Year: 1998
    Purchase From Amazon

    Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows – Movie Review:

    Directed by Paul Jay and released in 1998, Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows takes us back to 1997 where Vince McMahon and the WWF were still the top league in the world but now dealing with competition from the rising star of World Championship Wrestling league. Regardless, Bret “The Hitman” Hart was a big deal in the wrestling world at this point in time, he had been for a while. When Hart receives an offer to jump ship and join WCE, McMahon talking him into staying by offering him a long and but less lucrative twenty-year contract.

    With Hart now opting to stick with McMahon, they square him off against upcoming superstar “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, with Hart turning heel. With things not sitting well with Hart, eventually his contract is terminated. McMahon agrees to let him defend his title one last time at a Survivor Series match in Montreal. It doesn’t go the way Hart thought it was supposed to, resulting in the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” and sending Hart to the WCW shortly thereafter.

    A seriously interesting look not just at Bret Hart’s storied career but that of the wrestling dynasty from which he came, Wrestling With Shadows is a pretty compelling watch. Even if you’re not especially interested in professional wrestling, the very human drama that emerges from all of this is fascinating to watch, especially with McMahon setting Hart up to lose in his native Canada, where Bret and the other Hart family wrestlers are a pretty big deal to fans.

    Jay paces and edits the documentary very effectively. We get enough background information on Hart and both his family and his training to set things up and then from there, he pulls back the different layers of what was essentially a revenge conspiracy on McMahon’s part to bring Hart down. Loyalty is a big theme here, as is arrogance, especially on the part of McMahon, who, once the dust settles, really comes across as a greedy, self-serving backstabber. That said, Hart’s ego also comes into play here at times, he hardly comes across like a saint.

    Much of this story is told in Hart’s own words but we also get interviews and archival footage with plenty of other wrestlers, including associates of Hart's like Jim Neidhart, Owen Hart, Stu Hart, Helen Hart and a few others. The movie does a great job of exploring the backstage drama and intrigue, peeling back the kayfabe and humanizing the performers that make up the wrestling industry and while Hart and McMahon would mend ways a few years later, this documentary serves as a pretty great time capsule of the late nineties wrestling scene.

    Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows – Blu-ray Review:

    Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows arrives on a 50GB region free Blu-ray disc with the feature presented in an AVC encoded 1080i high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 and transferred and restored from the Betacam master. It looks good considering the analogue source. Colors are nice and detail is about as good as it’s going to get.

    The audio chores are handled by a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track in English. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Audio quality is also fine for an older analogue production. The dialogue is always clear and easy to follow and the levels are properly balanced.

    There are a lot of extras on the disc, starting with an audio commentary featuring Bret Hart and Wrestling Observer Newsletter editor Dave Meltzer, who covered the story back when it was happening and, as such, who has a really good understanding of the history documented in the movie. They talk about how the documentary project came to be and what Paul Jay's original intentions with the project were, how the documentary was almost done before the incident in Montreal happened, having to be prepared for things to go in a different direction no matter what during this part in his career, different rumors that have spread about the event since it happened, Sean Michaels part in all of this and Hart's feelings on how he handled it, how the business has changed over the decades, how his own wrestling style has developed over the years, details on the different storylines that were playing out in the WWF at the time, trying to always be honest with McMahon in hopes that he'd get honesty in return, his fear of being erased from wrestling history around this time, taking a call from McMahon in the hospital after having a serious stroke and how this lead to reconciliation between them, dealing with injuries from his younger days now that he's older, how grateful he is for the career that he had and quite a bit more. It's an interesting track that, with the gift of hindsight, comes across as quite honest and thoughtful.

    From there, dig into the wealth of featurettes included starting with the new twenty-three minute Anatomy Of A Screwjob which interviews Bret Hart. He talks about how the secrecy of the wrestling industry is a problem in a lot of ways and how it hasn't been documented the way that it should have been, how far wrestling has come in the last century and what he was trying to put forth in the documentary, what it was like being filmed constantly during the making of the movie, his relationship with McMahon and the good and the bad that came from it, different lies he was told surrounding the setup and the screwjob, having to be ready for anything during this period and warnings that he had that this could happen, excuses he was given for what happened, why he eventually punched McMahon and why it was the proudest day of his life and the conflicted feelings he still has about all of this.

    Directing With Shadows is a new twenty-three minute piece with director Paul Jay who talks about quitting school at sixteen, making a film before he quit which led him wanting to go to film school, going to London, getting work as a camera assistant, working his way up the ladder and doing sports documentary television work for the CBC, how he got the wrestling documentary started, what it was like working with Hart, the huge worldwide popularity of Hart at the time, wanting to reveal the theater of wrestling and specifics of what his contract with Hart allowed, how the movie was financed, what interested him about the story, his thoughts on Vince McMahon who he saw as a sort of surrogate father to Hart and, of course, the Montreal Screwjob which they had no expectations of capturing since they were mostly done filming by this point.

    There’s also thirteen minutes of “Screwjob-specific” commentary featuring Bret Hart. In this section, he talks about who knew what at the time, how he was standing by his convictions at the time, where his head was at while this was happening, how Vince was playing up the fact that he didn't know what would happenin the match when interviewed about it beforehand, how upset he got when Sean Michaels dry-humped the Canadian flag, when he realized he'd been screwed over, not knowing what to do when it happened and why he spit on McMahon, what happened when Undertaker brought McMahon to the dressing room for an explanation and how feels like he was treated like a circus animal and a commodity rather than a person.

    A twenty-two minute archival interview with Bret Hart from 2008 where he looks back on the events from ten years later, noting that it was still considered one of the biggest stories of the last few decades of wrestling, details on how it went down and the role that money played in a lot of this, thoughts on the high mortality rate associated with the business, how he felt WCW didn't really know what to do with him, how Owen Hart's death affected him and caused him to carry one longer than he originally wanted to, how all of this changed his thinking and outlook on life and what went into writing his book.

    Paul Jay also appears again in a 2008 archival interview running twenty-two minutes where he talks about why he made the film, what it was like working with Hart, Hart's personal demons and how they were challenging at times, humanizing Vince McMahon, specific memories of the shoot and, of course, the Screwjob situation and how it affected the movie.

    The disc also includes the forty-seven minute 1999 documentary The Life And Death Of Owen Hart, included here with an introduction by co-director Paul Jay, who worked with Sally Blake behind the camera. It’s a very interesting look at the personal life and career of Owen Hart, leading up to his tragic death on May 23rd, 1999 when a complicated ring entrance bit went wrong. There’s lots of interview footage here with friends, family members and fellow wrestlers as well as some great archival footage of Owen, all of which goes a long way towards painting a pretty detailed portrait of the man and his career, which sadly ended far too early when he was only thirty-four.

    Inside the clear keepcase along with the disc is a color insert booklet featuring an interview with producer Sally Blake where she talks about how she got the job on the documentary and what her experiences working on it were like. This release also comes packaged with some reversible cover sleeve artwork.

    Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows - The Final Word:

    Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows holds up, it’s a fascinating look behind the scenes of pre wrestling and all of the drama that it entails. The Blu-ray edition from Canadian International Pictures looks and sounds as good as the source material will allow for, while the supplemental package does a great job of exploring the documentary’s history and Hart’s own story.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows Blu-ray screen caps!

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