Skate Kitchen: A history of roller skating in film and TV
Roller skating: it’s been around a lot longer than you’d think. The activity was huge in the 70s, and while the hype might’ve died down somewhat, we think it’s about time it gets a revival. With a loose connection to Crystal Moselle’s recent feature Skate Kitchen, we thought we’d take the opportunity to look over the films and TV shows that featured roller skating in their storylines.
Okay, so Skate Kitchen might be about skateboarding, but we just wanted to talk about roller skating. So just roll with it, folks!
Paul Thomas Anderson’s ode to the early days of the American porn industry is a great film and one that features an outstanding performance from Heather Graham (From Hell) as Rollergirl. Rollergirl loves her roller skates so much, she never takes them off (not even during sex). In one scene she skates the night away with Dirk (Mark Wahlberg) and the gang in what is a short-lived moment of pure 70s joy before the excess begins to take its toll on everyone, including Rollergirl.
Made in 1975, the film is set in 2018 where the world is a global corporate state and the only form of entertainment is a violent sport called rollerball, which seeks to show the futility of individualism. That is, until star player Jonathan E. (James Caan) decides to make his last game a gladiatorial act of bloody defiance. Director Norman Jewison (Moonstruck) really deserves an award for seeing the year 2018 as being a lot brighter than it actually is.
Drew Barrymore’s 2009 directorial debut about an outcast teen’s coming-of-age after joining a roller derby team is actually very sweet. Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) longs to find a purpose in her life beyond the beauty pageants her former beauty queen mother (Marcia Gay Harden) forces her into. After sneaking off to a roller derby match with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), Bliss decides to try out for one of the local teams – the Hurl Scouts – and winds up making it.
As her skills grow, Bliss earns the nickname Babe Ruthless and starts taking charge of her life, which puts her at odds with her very strict mother.
A roller-derby newcomer (Claudia Jennings) soon makes enemies for refusing to play by the unwritten rules. It really is one of the oldest plots in cinema history and the fact that Steven Spielberg hasn’t done it yet is amazing. The film was an intended ripoff of the Raquel Welch film Kansas City Bomber – but if you’re really into your roller skating, you’ll have already known that.
In the third film of the Austin Powers series, Powers (Mike Myers) is forced to travel back to 1975 to rescue his kidnapped father Nigel (Michael Caine) from the clutches of the evil Goldmember (also Myers). When he arrives, he is greeted by Foxxy Cleopatra (Beyoncé) who’s working undercover as a singer at the Goldmembers roller disco club. As she sings, the villain then makes his memorable skating entrance.
There was a very brief roller disco era of movies and the 1979 Skatetown, U.S.A is probably the pinnacle. The plot sees rival skating gangs competing for a $1,000 prize and it stars Scott Baio, The Brady Bunch’s Maureen McCormick (who spent most of the shoot high on cocaine, according to her memoir), and Patrick Swayze (in his first film). Ever the triple threat, Swayze predictably nails all his skating routines while sporting some seriously feathered hair. After the success of Dirty Dancing in the 80s, Swayze fans retroactively gave Skatetown, U.S.A. the nickname “Dirty Skating.”
In the season seven episode “Lost Horizon”, Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) and the ever-lovable Roger Sterling (John Slattery) find themselves the only two employees left in the deserted offices for different reasons – Peggy’s office at McCann-Erickson isn’t ready due to a mix up, and Roger simply refuses to let SC&P go. The two start drinking vermouth and reminiscing and by the end of the day, Roger is drunkenly playing the organ while a giggly Peggy skates through the halls.
That ’70s Show loved a roller disco, but the best has to be the episode “Angie” where Eric tells the gang he’s taking Spanish lessons after school to cover up his secret roller disco obsession. The entire group (including Red) go to watch Eric perform with his partner. After being teased, Eric decides to quit roller disco for good, but not before spouting, “You know, here I’m an average kid. But down there? Down there I was a star!”