I have a confession to make.
By now, I think my tastes in films are pretty well known. We’ve covered silent films and early talkies here extensively enough that it’s very obvious I have a great interest in that era. But my tastes aren’t that limited, though, of course. And everyone has their guilty pleasures in movies, music and TV. Now, let’s take a look at one if my own guilty film pleasures. It, can of course, only be one thing:
Roller disco films!
Roller disco films skated their way into my heart when I first saw Roller Boogie. Sure, part of that was because Linda Blair was absurdly charming in it, but who wouldn’t be charmed by her in this film? It also helps that Jim Bray is incredibly talented and showcases his skills incredibly well. Because of that, the film features honest to goodness great musical numbers. The rest of it is just cheesy retro fun, and isn’t that just the thing you need sometimes? The vintage 70s fashion is sometimes wacky and sometimes adorable, and the songs to go along with it are fun too. It has just the perfect cheesy plot, too: young people wanting to save a roller rink as if it’s the most important thing in the world. It’s just cheesy fun that left a smile on my face the whole time.
Next came the much maligned Xanadu. I came into this knowing that the film carries with it quite the reputation. And it certainly is a different experience than Roller Boogie, because Xanadu is just so out there. It sounds bizarre on paper, but it’s even more bizarre in reality. Above all else, it’s still very fun. The musical numbers are still enjoyable to watch, along with the added bonus that anything can happen at any time. And boy, does it ever happen. To me, the film’s out of left field weirdness is precisely what makes it so charming. It’s wacky and bizarre, and the whole time that just makes it very unique and fun trip.
There was only one other entry into the Roller Disco Holy Trinity left: the never officially released Skatetown USA. And the fact that it will never be released is such a shame, likely due to a soundtrack featuring a bevy of hits. Although the film never strays far from the roller disco hall, it packs the same “bizarre around every corner” punch that Xanadu has. From a white Afro wearing DJ to a roller skating Uncle Sam, one never knows what sparkling surprises Skatetown USA will deliver next. In fact, it may be the most cheesy fun of them all, thanks also to an all star cast and total nonstop roller disco action.
By now, it’s obvious what all these films have in common, aside from just roller skating. The other common theme is that they’re incredibly cheesy and incredibly fun. Just as watching a swinging roaring 20s party on film makes me want to be there, so does a roll around the rink to an ABBA song. Everything from the disco tunes to the hair and the music is like stepping into a time machine. It’s a brief slice of life into a scene in the 70s, and every moment of it is pure up adulterated joy. Are these films good in many of the usual metrics at which we judge movies? Often, no. Does that make them any less entertaining? No.
Sometimes all we want from a film is a fun escape, something to put a smile on our face. That’s why I have always been enchanted by musicals in general, for the joy and pleasure they give when a spectacular musical number is going on. These roller disco films provide that same kind of fun– just with hot pants, roller skates and high socks thrown in the mix.
Give these films a chance if you’re so inclined. You might just find yourself dreaming of rollerskating too. In the meantime, I’m off to look for a satin jacket.