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Published on October 28th, 2011 | by Raw Heidi


Movie Review: “GV13 – Roller Gurl”, UK Style

Editor’s note: As our global derby community grows, we are looking for more than just North American perspectives on our sport. Three writers volunteered to review this film from around the globe – this time, enjoy a UK skater’s perspective!

Let’s start off with me admitting that I am a traditionalist in storytelling terms. I love a narrative, I love character development, I love themes, motifs and structure. That’s not to say the narrative needs to be linear, that I must love and understand each character and the themes, motifs and structure must be obvious and clear. However I want ONE of these to be present in something I read, watch or engage with, or else I’m better off being asleep or playing roller derby. None of these basic facets of storytelling exist within Roller Gurl.

I believe a lot of heart went into Roller Gurl, a lot of hard work and a great deal of care and love. Unfortunately that love and care was not enough to sustain the film for 57 long minutes. I hope the people who were interviewed for the film watch it and enjoy it, but anyone outside of that epic amount of contributors (I counted the credits – it’s 39 – that is an awful lot of people to get to grips with) are going to be left cold.

Roller Gurl is a series of talking heads intercut with footage from banked track and flat track derby taking place mostly in California. It’s a news piece that never ends. You know when you’re trying to explain the rules to a non-derby type in the pub? We’ve all done it:

Me: “Wait, no well that’s not taking lead jammer into consideration… No, no she has to pass the opponent with her hips… Well you can hit her in the legal blocking zones but no punching, kicking…”

It’s complicated and sometimes it feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.

Them: Eyes glazing over, half-hearted questions.

Me: “No dude, there IS NO BALL.”

This film is trying to explain something so complicated, so amorphous and huge in such a broad way it’s like trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with a paint roller – it’s impossible. This filmmaker needs to decide what they want to get across to their audience– is it cool names and a penchant for knocking girls on their asses? Is it the rules or the ref’s perspective? Is it about Angel City and Long Island or their Junior leagues? I’m not sure, my eyes are glazed over and I’m wondering if there is a ball anywhere in this crazy game.

There is a section called ‘Booty Shorts vs Sport.’ It’s a neat phrase that sums up our collective drive towards understanding and communicating if Derby is serious or spurious – but the answer is not forthcoming. Fast cut montage shots of booty shorts, hula hooping burlesque performers on fire, girls kissing, hugging and dancing – with voiceover about how confident, strong and athletic the players are actually means the visuals undermine the message we’re hearing from the commentary. Confused does not begin to describe it and don’t get me started on the erratic captions that pop up from about halfway through the film which I guess I’m supposed to read while I’m listening to the unrelated interview? I’m as good at multi-tasking at the next person, but that’s the audiovisual version of asking someone to rub their stomach and pat their head.

The mistake here is to touch upon complex issues and not give any resolve. I don’t want answers but I do want rumination around them I want discussion for crying out loud, I want to make my own decisions and not just be lectured for an hour. I get the feeling that the filmmaker LOVES derby girls, ADORES them, and has a lot of respect for the game and those who play, ref, etc. But that isn’t enough because nothing happens to drive this film on narratively and thus keep my attention.

This is a film for people who already love derby, they know they love derby and they want to hear other people talking about how much they love derby. Do you love derby? I LOVE derby but I’m too busy packing up my shit to get to practice on time to watch 57 minutes of some LA chicks talking about how much they love derby.

There are some great moments: I wanted to hear more from the Junior derby girls, I liked the section about Jammers – incisive, inspiring voiceover from people about what they take out of jamming and why they do it. I wish the film had been about jammers. And had been 10 minutes long.

Photographers take hundreds and hundreds of shots at an event – let’s say a roller derby game. They send us an edited selection of those shots – the best ones. Some sets might tell the story of the game and some may just be stylish, brilliantly shot moments in time that make for beautiful memories. This filmmaker needs to edit their material in a more disciplined manner to tease out what it is that they want to tell me about derby and put it in some kind of order so it makes sense. I know derby girls love derby. Dude, I do too – but tell me about it in 10 minutes, for the love of God.

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