If you manage to find a video of this obscure 1971 documentary, you might think it’s gonna be a behind-the-scenes look at roller derby. Which is a phoney sport they used to have, kind of like pro wrestling, Harlem Globetrotters, American Gladiators or Olympic ice skating. What the sport was, I think, was people rolling around in a rink with rounded walls, then they knock each other over and start getting mad at each other and that type of shit.
What you really get though is a little slice o’ american culture, focusing on this one particular dude who decides to quit his job at the factory to pursue roller derby. He goes back stage to talk to one of the pros (you’re not sure if the filmatists set this meeting up or not) and then tells his wife he’s gonna do it, he’s gonna go to a school and train and give it a shot. And she says okay, if that’s what you want to do. She’s real supportive.
Which is why it’s kinda shocking about halfway through the movie when we go along with this dude and his buddy on a double date and the buddy brags about how this dude once had three mistresses without his wife or any of them knowing about each other. Turns out he’s a real scum bag, and the poor wife kinda realizes it, so there is a scene where she and a friend go to one of the mistress’s houses and they all bitch each other out. In 1971 this stuff was done in documentaries because there was no television programming to fill this gap.
There are scenes at the derby, and one scene in a car with a couple of female pros in a car on the way to a game, talking about how people look at them funny because they’re white girls with afros. But you never see this training school the dude is talking about, or find out if he makes it into the derby. It ends kind of abruptly but it’s real fascinating while it lasts, getting a peek into this guy’s life while he waits to get started.
This guy thinks he’s real fuckin cool. Even though he’s just some fuckin rollerskater. One scene I really liked was where he was at work at the factory, wearing sunglasses. His boss tries to get him to take off the glasses, saying he needs to wear safety goggles. He says he has to wear the sunglasses to see. The boss points out that if something flew at him, it could blow glass right into his eyeball. He says yeah, I sorta gotta wear em to see. And the boss says, yeah, okay, I’ll look into that, I’ll do some tests. So the guy smiles, he’s still wearin his sunglasses.
(I bet he wouldn’t be smiling after the glass went into his eyeball, but they don’t have that scene in here.)
There are other interesting characters too, like this fat teenager that lays around on a mattress in their house, with no shirt on, reading Playboy. I’m not sure if he’s their son or somebody’s brother or just some guy that they can’t get to leave. The wife tells him how he needs to bring his dog to the pound if he’s not gonna feed it and he just keeps lookin at his playboy and tells her she should get playgirl. People think these types of losers were invented by the young people in the ’90s, but here’s documentation to prove otherwise. This is one scene that could be straight out of gummo.
Later on there is, I think it’s the roller skater’s brother, fresh back from Vietnam. He brags about how brutal it was, but consoles himself by playing himself off as a great american, doing his duty, seeing the world realistically. He tries to denegrate his brother’s dream of rollerskating for a living. He criticizes everybody’s morals and tries to get everybody to join up.
And in this scene you actually side with the braindead gummo kid, when he grunts “Don’t you feel bad about killing all those people?” And the vet says, “What are you, one of these hippies they got goin around?” You can see how even the most pathetic waste of youth was able to get a little bit of perspective, trickling down from the counterculture. When are we gonna get that goin, kids? Get off your mattresses, put down your playboys and start makin a god damn difference. I will loan you some hustlers later.
Filmatically this is not on the level of, say, a Maysles brothers picture. Because those are all masterpieces. There are a couple of shots in here that are obviously set up. For example when this dude goes to look at a motorcycle he wants to buy, there is a really long shot of playboys glued onto a door, and then the door opens up and the guy selling the motorcycle comes out. But they obviously set up the shot and then told him to come out. I think it’s all real, but those type of phoney set ups make you wonder. Also it’s awkward that the whole thing is done Maysles style, fly on the wall, until one part 50 minutes in there is suddenly a guy talking to the camera.
But this is a good one, I’m real glad I found out about this one. The directionist did not seem to do any other documentaries but he did a drama called CARNY so I will check it out in case it’s good.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.