Roller Boogierecommended viewing

Who wears short shorts?
★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
Mark L. Lester
Starring: 
Linda Blair, Jim Bray, Stoney Jackson, Carey Fox
The Setup: 
In an alternate reality in which everyone is obsessed with roller skating and disco music, a rich musical prodigy falls in love with a skate king and saves the local roller rink from evil developers.
Discussion: 

From the golden producing mind of Irwin Yablans, genius associated with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Prison, and Tourist Trap, comes a charming teensploitation flick that posits a world in which nearly all of society conducts their lives on roller skates and is obsessed with disco music. How can I be transported to this fabulous reality?

In this bold vision of a utopian society, all men wear tiny short shorts that showcase their genitals, while women are rarely seen out of tiny cameltoein’ silk shorts and cleavage-enhancing lycra tops. There are numerous mustachioed hunks lurking about, and even the middle-aged local police report for duty in tiny ass-hugging shorts and clingy T shirts.

The movie opens with a highly fetishized version of roller skating, as our charmless hero, portrayed by donkey-toothed Jim Bray, gets dressed. Soon after we are treated to the spectacle of former Exorcist posessee Linda Blair getting dressed in an outfit that asks the question: “Have you happened to notice my pussy?” Her rich uptight parents are oblivious to her outfit, as well as her emotional needs, driving her into the arms of the aforementioned big-toothed skate dork.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves without duly noting the opening credits sequence, which lays out the fantasy world of this film as accompanied by Cher at her absolute cheesiest singing a tune entitled “Hell On Wheels.” It accurately sets up the film as a motion picture event in which every frame, from first to last, is packed with some hootworthy element or other.

So it would seem that Blair is a musical prodigy whose stuffy parents want her to go to Julliard, and accept the affections of the requisite creepy rich brat who all but rapes her in his second scene. Poor Blair, it seems, has been unfairly branded an absolute slut due to her role in The Exorcist [raising extremely uncomfortable issues regarding men’s view of her based on her role in that film], and apparently is not unwilling to engage such views in order to continue to have a film career. Her ambitions are, however, sadly limited by her utter inability to act. I found the constant and relentless sexualization of her rather uncomfortable, and the whole idea that since she, in a film, was possessed by a male presence and fucked herself with a crucifix, SHE is therefore a slut who can only portray young teen vixens. And as I mentioned, she seems only too willing to play along.

But this is a teensploitation film, so what do we expect? This sort of cross between Beach Blanket Bingo, Grease and Xanadu is so utterly off the wall in nearly every other respect that its merits as a genial freak-out soon make one accept the ugly sexualization at its core. This is a film in which, after all, a bunch of rich people in fancy dress getting shoved into a swimming pool, one after another, is considered really, REALLY funny.

So Blair sneaks out the family compound to join the freewheeling skate scene along the L.A. beachfront boardwalks, where she meets Jim, who she mercilessly cock-teases for the first 45 minutes, whilst also learning to skate, becoming an acrobatic skate champion in an astonishing three weeks. After one scene of conducting appallingly sexual dialogue with Jim as she rubs her satiny snatch up against him, she is outraged when he is taken aback by her forwardness. “I just want someone to hold me!” she wails. “Is that so wrong?”

These scenes are punctuated by multitudinous efforts at charming whimsy, which are foiled at every turn by the star’s dearth of chemistry, charm, and acting ability. It is so club-footed, however, that it really is quite charming.

What this film also has is quite a few sequences of astonishing skating ability. Jim Bray is quite an accomplished skater, which may account for his appearance in this movie despite his aesthetic drawbacks, and many of the featured but nameless skaters really are quite incredible in the movie’s numerous showcase skating sequences. It really is quite entrancing—especially to those who are already in somewhat of an enhanced viewing state—to watch nearly everyone sliding around instead of walking or dancing. I even caught a glimpse of the anonymous 70s mustachioed crotch-hugging-shorted roller-hunk who made such an impression on me during his featured appearance in Thank God It’s Friday, and it was certainly lovely to see him again.

Anyway, the plot of this movie kicks in at 52 minutes, wherein a bunch of thugs threaten Jammer, the owner of the roller rink, to burn his house of skate down unless he sells to them for the development of a shopping mall. Through a plot device worthy of a Scooby-Doo episode, the rink is saved, and the thugs are escorted off to prison by the aforementioned police officer in tiny shorts and T shirt [above, far right], just in time for Jim and Blair to win the big roller boogie contest! I hope I haven’t given anything away.

This film raises many viewer expectations. For instance, when Blair’s parents reveal themselves as being pathologically set against disco music and roller skating, regarding only classical music as a worthy contribution to world culture, one is sure that we will later glimpse them gleefully getting down to the roller boogie sound at the climax of the film. This would prove to be wrong however, though I remain convinced that that footage lies on a cutting room floor somewhere. Secondly, when we see a forlorn Jim entering the rink alone at night, we are sure that we will be treated to a heartfelt skating solo, set to a bleating disco ballad, as he pines for the rich girl he can never possess. Again, we would be wrong. Instead, he performs a heartfelt skating solo, set to a bleating disco ballad, as a narcissistic “tribute” to the owner of the doomed skating rink.

Now, precious moments from the film that must be considered individually:

> During a couples-only skating competition, we see a DJ start a number at its beginning. Two seconds later, a guy on the sidelines says to the woman beside him: “Come on, this song’s almost over!”

> Blair parks her car ON TOP OF large painted letters that say “NO PARKING.” Carelessness? Or Characterization?

> Two black guys in floral shirts opened to their waist [above] perform a synchronized dance together, in a beautiful view of progressive gay acceptance.

> Blair’s sister ventures down to the alien world of the roller-beach to find her sister, wearing skin-tight shiny hot pants.

> Jammer announces that he’s closing the club and is going to move to Arizona to “watch the cactuses grow.” A nearby male bimbo scoffs “Pah! THAT’LL take forever.”

> There is an exciting roller-chase as our heroes try to evade the thugs. At one point, our protagonists are out of the thugs’ sight for approximately two seconds, after which the thugs conclude: “They must have skated back to the ranch.”

> During the aforementioned roller-chase, our dexterous couple perform a jump over a car, as observed by a local bystanding hick [below] who gapes at them idiotically [and without moving--the director clearly just said: "Look over there!"] in a cut-away shot.

This movie was truly outstanding in terms of the sheer pounds of cheese it piles on. Viewers, like myself, bereft of anything similar to watch, having already exhausted the wonders of Xanadu, will find new hope here for their hopeful visions of a utopian disco world of tight clothes and vapid happiness.

Roller rocking, fingers popping, never stopping. You can be a skate dancer.

Should you watch it: 

By all means, YES!

RELATED MOVIES:
XANADU has a very similar feel to this movie, but is a shade more good-natured and optimistic, and of course features the incandescent wondrousness of Olivia Newton-John and the final screen performance of Gene Kelly. If you've never seen it, I envy your still having that ahead of you.