Since getting into the documentary DVD business about a decade ago, WWE has covered off several important stories, ranging from the history of WCW to WCCW; from the Monday Night Wars to Mr. McMahon; and from The Road Warriors to Ric Flair. Yet one story left largely untouched was the complicated and often tragic tale of the Hart family -- interesting mainly because it's such an important part of WWE's own history.
Sure, WWE produced a Bret Hart DVD in 2005, but that one never sat right with me. It was largely a vanity project aimed at repairing the relationship between The Hitman and WWE, and while there was nothing wrong with the documentary or match selection, I couldn't help shake the feeling that Bret was so... down the entire time. It was depressing! By the time Bret looked back at all of his friends who died at an early age, it almost makes one want to slash their wrists.
In Hart & Soul: The Hart Family Anthology, however, Bret is decidedly more upbeat, and that dictates the tone of this much-anticipated DVD collection. The result is a safer version than other versions of the family's history one may have seen (such as Heath McCoy's excellent book Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling), yet one that's still quite watchable.
Surprisingly, the Hart family members are virtually the only interviews throughout the documentary; I would have expected the usual DVD suspects, such as John Cena,Brooklyn Brawler, Jim Ross and Triple H to be somehow involved. In addition to Bret, there are comments from Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, Ellie Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith (archived footage, obviously), Diana Hart Smith, Ross Hart, Keith Hart, Smith Hart (who, as he ages, is becoming the spitting image of his father Stu), Bruce Hart, and all three members of The Hart Dynasty. That said, WWE did manage to track down Canadian political legend Ralph Klein to give his thoughts, which shows you how well-regarded the Hart family is in Canada.
The documentary is broken down to include a segment on all 12 Hart children, the parents, brothers-in-law Smith and Neidhart, and a handful of Stu and Helen Hart's grandchildren. Of note: some of the siblings that didn't participate seemed to receive smaller segments than others. Insert your own Vince McMahon conspiracy theory here.
While the documentary tackles some of the Hart tragedies, it dances around or avoids others entirely. Books including Pain and Passion suggest that there has been bitter infighting in the family for 30-plus years, not to mention allegations of drug abuse, domestic violence and infidelity. Yet most of this DVD focuses on the in-ring rivalries, adding only a small portion of the real-life problems.
What really stood out for me was the section on Owen Hart, one of my favorite wrestlers ever (and the nicest wrestler I've ever personally met). Yes, the segment was a positive one, but then to hear Bret classify the stunt that killed Owen was an "accident"? After years claiming publicly that it was Vince's fault? Wow.
I've always admired The Hitman for sticking to his guns, but it seems as though he's softening his stance after striking a deal with WWE. Maybe I'm wrong, but it certainly comes across that way.
Overall, the DVD is upbeat and looks at a family whose skills are unlikely to ever be duplicated. Extras range from additional interview clips to a home movie taken in 1987 of the Hart family spending Thanksgiving dinner together. If you look closely, you can see a young Brian Pillman watching television with Bret and one his kids.
The match selection (hosted by The Hart Dynasty) is fantastic and the real gem of this three-DVD set: a collection of fast-paced and technically sound matches.
The second disc kicks off with Keith, Bruce and Bret Hart against Dynamite Kid and The Kiwis. If the latter team doesn't ring a bell, think The Bushwhackers and shaggy-haired heels. Definitely a rarity to kick things off.
This is followed by a tag team match from 1986 between The Hart Foundation and The British Bulldogs. If you've never seen a match featuring these four extended family members, this is a great one to start with. This series of matches definitely stood out from the cartoonish WWF feuds taking place at the time.
Bret versus Davey Boy from SummerSlam 1992 in England is next, which I'll always remember because I watched it on pay-per-view the day before I started college. Almost 20 years later, the match is showing its age a bit, but still a very well-worked bout, especially considering one of the competitors (Davey Boy) was injured.
Next up is the Survivor Series match in which Hart brothers Bret, Owen, Bruce and Keith take on Shawn Michaels's Knights (it was supposed to be Jerry Lawler's Knights until The King ran into legal problems). Not a tremendous match, but worth watching because Owen begins turning heel in the aftermath. I only remember The Knights because, after the appearance at Survivor Series, WWF had two masked jobbers compete on the house show circuit as "Shawn's Knights" for a while.
This is followed by a "dream" tag team match featuring Bret and Owen against Rick and Scott Steiner that I'd previously seen on a Coliseum Home Video release. It's not as awesome a match as one may think, but the two brother teams use some interesting psychology, and I'd say it's worth viewing at least once. Not exactly The Steiners vs. Sting and Lex Luger, but the same general idea.
Bret and Owen have one last tag match together, this one against WWF Tag Team Champions The Quebecers. Again, not a terrible match, but this is more about an angle than anything else.
The third disc kicks off with arguably one of the best-planned storylines in WWF history as Bret and Owen square off in a steel cage match from SummerSlam 94. This is one of the few matches involving more than a dozen outside participants that wouldn't be considered "overbooked".
Bret and Davey Boy take on Owen and Jim Neidhart in a forgettable tag team match from Raw. Despite having more star power and three-quarters of the aforementioned Bulldogs vs. Hart Foundation match, this wasn't nearly as kick-ass.
Yet another family feud takes place with Owen taking on Davey Boy in the finals of the European title tournament. I'd forgotten how amazing this match was, with subtle one-upsmanship happening between the brothers-in-law. Definitely worth checking out.
This is followed by a 10-man match featuring Bret, Owen, Davey Boy, The Anvil and Pillman against The Road Warriors, Goldust, Ken Shamrock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Amazing how much star power was in one match (and sad to note that only six of them are still alive). This one definitely lives up to the hype and is probably my favorite match in the entire collection. Oh, and as Jim Ross mentions, a film crew is at ringside filming some sort of documentary about Bret. I can't remember what that one was all about....
The last two matches are a flag match featuring Bret, Owen and Davey Boy against Austin, The Undertaker and Dude Love, and D-Generation X against The Hart Dynasty. Neither are classics, but nice little rarities to have on DVD.
Overall, I really enjoyed this set, even if it wasn't as controversial as it could have been. Hey, at least it wasn't depressing as the previous Bret Hart release...
Hart & Soul
The Hart Family Anthology