Tuesday, February 23, 2021

18th & Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story - 2021 Slamdance Documentary Review

The Documentary: 18th & Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story

The Director: Stephen DeBro

The Story: Home of 18th & Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story, a documentary film telling the story of a city through a historic fight palace. Boxing, wrestling, roller derby, music, L.A. history and culture.

The Review:
Growing up a wrestling fan, this documentary about LA's famous, or maybe infamous is a better term, Olympic Auditorium was right up my alley. Even if most of the content involves boxing, I was very happy to see legends like Gorgeous George, Andre the Giant, and Rowdy Roddy Piper in some really cool archive footage. There's even some interview clips where Piper talks about some seriously crazy stuff that went down during events at The Olympic and when someone like Rowdy Roddy Piper thinks something he experienced was crazy or shocking, you know it's on another level. 

Wrestling stuff aside, it was really interesting to see how much of this story is about Aileen Eaton, t he woman who basically ran the auditorium and all of its promotions for decades. She was basically a force of nature that only time could stop, because we all know time is undefeated, and she created so many superstars from boxer Enrique Bolaños to roller derby legends like Gwen “Skinny Minnie” Miller. During a time when women were rarely seen in these types of positions of power, Eaton completely owned and earned her title and director Stephen DeBro takes great care to show just how much work and effort she out in to achieve all of her success.

Over the course of the documentary, I like how DeBro touches on a lot of societal and cultural topics that revolved around the auditorium like sexism, racism, classism, and lots of other isms. I had always heard of the "Zoot Suit Riots" but never really understood what it was all about so having a chance to learn about it and other touchstone points in LA's history made this film a very interesting and surprisingly educational watch. There is just so much going on in this documentary involving so many people over such a long period of time and it all flows along so smoothly which is a huge credit to DeBro being able to compile the footage, get the interviews, and then put it all together in a way that makes sense and is entertaining to boot.

It's sad that places like the Olympic are not able to live on in the same way they did during their heyday and it makes me think of my own favorite place here in Seattle, the Cinerama movie theater. A building that has an amazing history and became basically my place of worship when it comes to movies and now it has sat empty for over a year, not just because of the pandemic but because corporate interests only see spreadsheets and bottom lines rather than history, culture, and the love of entertainment. That connection for me made this documentary a totally relatable experience and, while the Olympic still stands, it will never be what it once was so thank you to Stephen DeBro and everyone else involved in helping to create this film as a way to keep the legacy alove.

The Verdict:
18th & Grand: The Olympic Auditorium Story is the documentary equivalent of a no holds barred cage match as director Stephen DeBro takes viewers through a punk fueled full ten rounds of what is surely to be a crowd pleasing feature film debut.

To keep track of all my reviews and festival coverage please go to: TwoOhSix at Slamdance 2021.

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