The newly released Bret Hart DVD, a three-disc presentation titled “Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be,” is an outstanding DVD. The documentary is honest and complete, the accompanying wrestling is tremendous, and the technical presentation is flawless. Still, none of this goes to explain why the DVD is so great: it is the composite sketch of a luminous career sadly overshadowed by the events of Survivor Series 1997.
This set, the result of an odd partnership between WWE and Bret Hart (a picture of Vince McMahon and Hart shaking hands published on the WWE website remains a weird sight), transcends the ordinary compilation. It is so ideally choosy and unromantic but respectful of Hart’s 17-year career that it becomes the definitive overview of a wrestling career in a manner that no other DVD has succeeded at doing. This DVD is the perfect outgrowth of the massive WWE film library because it realizes that it is not enough to have such video, but that it must be expertly targeted and used in order to create a successful total package. Hart, who selected the matches, can be thanked for that contribution. The quality of the wrestling (there are 18 complete matches in the set) makes for pleasant viewing.
As far as formatting, the set is structured familiarly: it begins with a two-hour documentary in the same style of Eddie Guerrero DVD with Hart narrating his career and others contributing comments, edited with clips stretching as far back as Hart’s early days in Stampede Wrestling. This was edited down from a seven-hour interview that Hart conducted on one day earlier this year. It is followed by a set of extras, some more of the interview with Hart, and two discs worth of matches. Overall, there is about 7 hours of wrestling in the set.
The very medium of the DVD compilation, which allows for a reexamination of Hart’s legacy and his in-ring contributions, is more suited to the career of Hart than perhaps any other Hall of Fame wrestler. This allows it to exceed the quality of even the retrospective of the incomparable career of Ric Flair in his DVD (released in 2003), which was too expansive for its own good. This set is taut and selective where the Flair set was titanic, managing to say too much and too little at the same time in the same three-disc format. Hart’s wrestling also, on average, ages better over time, though the best matches of both men are timeless.
But being the subject matter is Bret Hart, the topic of the so-called “Montreal Screwjob” plays into the DVD. The controversy, which has been covered fully in the 1998 movie “Wrestling With Shadows” and Dave Meltzer’s ubiquitous summary of the events, is treated only in limited fashion here. It receives at most five minutes of the documentary, enough for McMahon to comment and Hart to comment, but not enough to clear up the confusion that has persisted over the events in the run-up to the show and of that night, despite how well-documented those facts are.
However, this limited treatment of the controversy is one of the DVD’s many strong suits. By going beyond that belabored conflict, the DVD comes to stand on its own as a historical statement. It reframes the debate over the career of Bret Hart, giving it due perspective and depth that it has been wrongly denied. This is the first, and most definitive, serious account of an estimable career that has been reduced to a sequence of events at the end of an otherwise minor show in 1997. The terms of debate, unfettered by bad memories and unreliable impressions, are now clear.
In the interview that forms the basis of the documentary, the honest opinions and reflections of one of the finest wrestlers in WWE history are as plain as ever; in matches such as the one on the DVD with Diesel, you see the portrait of a worker with an uncanny ability to make an opponent of any skill level look excellent; in the tense grappling between Hart and Chris Benoit, the pain of Owen Hart’s loss is felt; in the skillful execution of Steve Austin vs. Hart, one of the greatest matches in the history of Wrestlemania is again witnessed or seen for the first time by a new wrestling fan. Regardless of your ultimate opinion of Bret Hart, it is in these terms, presented as comprehensively as ever in this DVD, that his career must be judged.
The title of the DVD suggests a wrestler with a reputation as the standard-bearer: the best ever. The DVD does nothing extensive to convince you one way or the other if that’s true. But whether or not you believe the claim, this DVD gives the facts, now a part of wrestling history. This DVD presents, as nothing else can, the career of Bret Hart. How great is he? You decide.
“Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be” is a DVD by WWE films, directed by Kevin Dunn, $34.95
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