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Lockdown Movie Musts: 1970s Roller Disco Movies (No, Really)

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(L-R) Patrick Swayze in 'Skatetown USA'; Jim Bray in 'Roller Boogie'; Olivia Newton-John in 'Xanadu.'

Picture it: Patrick Swayze in bell bottoms and a leather vest (no shirt, naturally), waving his own belt around like a whip while doing a dance routine on roller skates. He spins on his knees and butt! He kicks—front, back, side—because he’s a wild man! He even does something approaching jump rope! (You kind of have to see it to comprehend it.)

This is but one three-minute scene from 1979’s Skatetown USA—a gift of a movie that forces the viewer to ask “Was this ever cool?” and “Really though?” repeatedly, throughout.

The movie’s pun-tastic trailer tantalizingly promises that it’s “The greatest story ever rolled.” While I can categorically confirm that this is an outright lie (and also that the film contains a shocking amount of female objectification), it is almost impossible to have a bad time watching this damn thing.

Allow me to backtrack for a moment. A month ago, if you plopped me down in front of a TV for a few hours, I would more than likely be watching true crime rehashings, documentaries about cults, and post-apocalyptic sci-fi doom in which my favorite characters could die at any moment.


But that was 2020 BC*. (*Before Coronavirus.)

Once lockdown kicked in, anxiety and insomnia quickly followed, and I was forced to seek out any and all media that would take my mind off the worldwide nightmare unfolding. (Previously, I would have simply turned to my old pal Friends, but Netflix took that away at the dawn of 2020—a harbinger of doom to start the year, now that I think about it.)

So now—I won’t bore you with the steps of exactly how I got here—I’m neck-deep in roller disco movies, and desperate to drag everyone else down into the sequined maelstrom with me. Partly because it’s less awkward than being in here alone, and partly because I genuinely think other people need to see this. (Not in a majestic Planet Earth sort of way; more like a monkey smoking cigarettes in the 1930s kinda thing. You know this sort of thing happened, but you don’t truly believe it until you see it for yourself.)

Anyway! Here’s the plot of Skatetown USA: People like to roller skate at a roller rink. Two male skaters—Ace, the first bad guy in history to wear a bedazzled pink crop top, and Stan, a good guy who dresses exactly like Flash Gordon—both want to win a roller skating competition.

That’s it. That’s the whole plot.

Sure, there’s some judge blackmail, and some girls, and some Scott Baio business, but the edgiest this movie gets is when a guy dressed as Uncle Sam (stars and stripes, top hat and all) gets light shined in his eyes mid-roller skate routine and falls over. (There is also a game of chicken on motorized roller skates, but I won’t spoil that for you.)

Skatetown USA is absolutely amazing viewing (amazing in the literal sense of the word) in a time of global crisis. So naturally, after watching it, I immediately turned to its partner in 1979 cinematic crime, Roller Boogie. I initially (foolishly) presumed that it might have a little more substance. Especially since it stars everyone’s favorite demon-child, Linda Blair, in the lead roll. (See what I did there?)

However, much to my joy, Roller Boogie is just as gloriously, mind-numbingly stupid as Skatetown USA. Linda Blair—most famous for shouting “Your mother sucks c–ks in hell” at a priest—here wears special skates that look like they don’t have any laces, along with a series of rad leotards, one of which is white with tassels.

Every single thing that happens in this film is ridiculous. Just watch the opening sequence if you need evidence. (You’ll never look at Venice Beach or dumpster-based make-out sessions the same way again.)

(And yes, since you ask, that is Cher singing. The song was called “Hell on Wheels” and it peaked at only number 59 on the Billboard charts, despite Cher doing some excellent roller skating in some excellent cycling shorts in the video. You’re welcome!)

One of the fun things about Roller Boogie is that the stakes are even lower than they were in Skatetown USA—and that’s quite a feat. The plot to Roller Boogie goes like this: Terry (fancy girl) and Bobby (unfancy boy) want to win a roller skating contest. So they do.

That’s it. That’s the end.

The most tension I felt watching this thing was concern over whether or not Linda Blair could actually roller skate, since I’m fairly sure no one bothered to teach her. Mostly what happens when she’s wearing skates is that she’s either physically dragged along by someone else, or a body double skates from far away, or Bobby picks her up and she just planks all over him.

Please do not underestimate how mesmerizing it is to watch Bobby, the stunt double and Linda’s white tassels do all the hard work for Linda. Just look how much she is not skating here:

It would be remiss, of course, for me to talk about roller skating movies of this period without bringing up the most famous of them all: Xanadu. Xanadu is my least favorite of the bunch (despite it featuring a pair of knee-high roller skates) specifically because it has something approaching a plot.

Sure, it’s a plot about an Olivia Newton-John-shaped painting coming to life, and an artist dude teaming up with Gene Kelly to open a club, but a plot it unmistakably is. (For some utterly baffling reason, this movie thinks that Club Owner is a nicer job than Artist.) To make matters worse, this movie is packed to the gills with song and dance numbers that make you feel like you ate shrooms. People living inside walls, arguing with God, turning into cartoons—it’s a total nightmare from start to finish.

Don’t get me started on how many of these dance numbers don’t even include roller skates. Just look at this mess:

In the end, it doesn’t matter if you love or hate any of these movies. (I definitely hated Xanadu.) What matters is that all three have the miraculous ability to take you out of reality for a few hours. And, at this point, that’s even more magical than a shirtless Patrick Swayze at a roller rink.

Until next week, stay safe and keep sheltering.


For other Lockdown Movie Musts, click here

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