Roller Boogie

| July 8, 2015

With this week’s simultaneous Blu-ray and DVD releases of Roller Boogie (1979) from Olive Films, Olive has saved us a lot of time and money. And by us, I mean anyone who wanted to actually own a copy of Roller Boogie. Prior to their release of Roller Boogie, the previous DVD had been out of print for some time and the asking price for that bare-bones disc reached absurd levels. I know this firsthand as I’ve long been a fan of Roller Boogie, only I somehow didn’t decide I needed a copy in my collection until it had already lapsed out of print. This put people like me who wanted an official copy of the film in an awkward position: either give up on that dream entirely or bid on countless copies on eBay until you scored one at your desired price point, which it never did since bids would go as high as $40 and I was willing to spend about $15. Thus, I had about given up on ever owning a copy myself when Olive did what they do best and added yet another exciting title to their ever-growing, eclectic catalogue.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss over Roller Boogie is about. Admittedly, my adoration of Roller Boogie is probably largely subjective, being a child of an era during which such curiosities of the 1970s as roller disco movies were routinely shown on television. However, the film is also notably the result of efforts by an incredible array of talented individuals. At the helm of the picture is director Mark L. Lester, who would go on to direct Commando (1985), Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991), and one of my personal favorites: the seminal high school violence film, Class of 1984 (1982). What’s more, the director of photography on Roller Boogie was Dean Cundey. That’s right, this little roller disco/teen romance picture was shot by the same man who shot the Back to the Future movies, Jurassic Park (1993), and some of John Carpenter’s greatest films, including Halloween (1978)!

So what’s it all about? With a story rooted in the roller disco fad of the late-1970s, “it’s love on wheels,” as the tagline declares, when wealthy teen Terry Barkley defies her unloving parents and sets out to learn the ins and outs of skating with the help of Bobby James, the best skater on the boardwalk.  In this, The Exorcist’s Linda Blair and roller skating champ/soon-to-be teen heartthrob Jim Bray star as Terry and Bobby in what’s basically a proto-Dirty Dancing scenario for the first half of the film.

At the exact midpoint of the picture, however, the real conflict makes its appearance when three gangsters show up at Jammer’s roller rink and threaten to burn it down with the kids inside if Jammer won’t sign the property over to them for a shopping mall development. It’s up to the kids alone to save their favorite roller rink, though, after they go to the authorities but find two insurmountable hurdles in their path: First, Terry’s dad is in fact the lawyer overseeing the legal endeavors of the gangsters, though their illicit activities are unbeknownst to him. And second, it seems these well-dressed gangsters have some sort of legal immunity, because, as Bobby puts it: “No cop’s gonna arrest a guy with a $600 suit on!”

Sure, it’s a story of you’ve seen a hundred times before, and maybe even better executed, but unless you’ve seen Roller Boogie, you’ve never seen it told with roller disco youths and an aesthetic rooted in the era’s fashion, replete with scarily short shorts and gaudy unitards. Spotting the abundant bizarre fashion choices alone makes Roller Boogie an astonishing viewing experience, but it’s also incredibly funny too, and occasionally on purpose at that. Where the film proves unintentionally funny, the humor stems from unnatural and hilariously stilted dialogue that’s more akin to television dialogue than film in its near total lack of subtext. One of my favorite stilted lines comes from Terry, who shouts in her teen angstiness, “So what, I’m a musical genius? What a drag! What a bummer!” Ooo, pure poetry, that! Throw in a dash of skating that at least impressed me with my total lack of skating knowledge and you’ve got yourself a terrifically fun picture—one that’s worlds better than either 1979’s other roller-disco-themed movie, Skatetown, U.S.A., or 1980’s roller disco, box office disaster, Xanadu.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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