Although Card Subject to Change boasts the subtitle “Pro Wrestling’s Underground”, it does very little to define the landscape of underground wrestling as a whole. The small-scale documentary instead mostly follows a single New Jersey indie promotion called NWS (National Wrestling Superstars) with only a few familiar underground faces & former legends popping in from time to time to afford the project some wide-scope legitimacy. Card Subject to Change is pretty decent for a financially-limited wrestling documentary, but its list of notable interviewees & exemplifying tragic stories are likely to only be worthwhile for the already-converted. Anyone looking for an informational gateway into the world of pro wrestling or a history lesson as to where or what the indies have been or meant in the past will likely be disappointed, but ingrained smarks are likely to be generally pleased by what is admittedly a cheap little charmer.
Card Subject to Change may not capture the entire history of local, indie wrestling circuits & how they evolved into (read: were destroyed by) the nationally-televised promotions most people are familiar with (for that I recommend 1999’s The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling), but it does have a nifty glimpse into what the remains of that world looks like in the 2010s. The drop tile ceilings & wooden panelling of VFW halls and the corrugated roofs & raised basketball hoops of middle school gymnasiums set a definitive tone for the limited scope of the indie pro wrestling circuit. As I’ve already griped in my review of Body Slam, though, the bloated spectacle of mainstream promotions isn’t what makes pro wrestling special. It’s entirely possible to put on a great show without the opulence & fireworks of the WWE.
Speaking of putting on a great show, the promoter of NWS that eats up most of the film’s interview time, Johnny Falco, is a rare breed of show business everyman. Starting as a roller derby announcer, Falco tried to make it as a wrestler himself before finding his calling as a promoter. He makes no bones about his humble place in pro wrestling’s “minor leagues”, openly admitting that NWS mostly serves as a limbo for elderly legends, performers between major gigs, and newcomers who are just learning the trade. He poses the indie circuit as the start & end of a career cycle. It’s where wrestlers begin & often conclude their runs, but rarely where they see their greatest heights.
On the performers’ end of the interviewees, a relative unknown named Trent Acid provides most of the film’s insight as a subject. Although Card Subject to Change tends to glorify the indie circuit as a concept, it doesn’t shy away from its downfalls either. The sickening brutality of certain “hardcore” promotions & some on-screen steroid abuse both stick out as examples of where the film pokes holes in the indies’ splendor, but it’s Trent Acid’s specific story that gives the film a face & a narrative to exemplify the more problematic side of the “minor leagues”. A grungy Raven or Hardy Boyz type, Acid made quite a name for himself on the indie circuit, but allowed substance abuse & domestic troubles keep him from “making it big”. Instead of using independent promotions as a start to the cycle of a typical career, he made it a lifestyle & the results are tragic.
Besides the insightful glimpses into Falco’s & Acid’s lives, Card Subject to Change features an interesting list of interview subjects including Terry Funk, Necro Butcher (who had a terrifying turn in The Wrestler), Paul Bearer (billed here as Percy Pringle III), and Sabu (who now eerily looks like a drug-addicted HHH) among others. The movie mostly sidesteps the horrendous soundtrack problem I generally associate with wrestling documentaries (the end credits song is legitimately pretty great if nothing else), but for the most part it isn’t a particularly special example of its genre, form-wise. Outside of the insights of Falco’s & Acid’s lives, the film mostly just sort of checks in on its subjects, quickly updating the audience on where things were around 2010, larger context be damned. If you aren’t already invested in the world of pro wrestling before you arrive to the film, you aren’t likely to get much out of this limited scope, but if you’re used to marking out on a weekly basis, there’s plenty of interest to chew on, especially in the cases of Falco & Acid.