I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Skating the Path of Righteousness: the Hair Metal Spiritualism of “Roller Blade” (1986)


by Justin Martinez
July 23, 2014

Shot in Sun Valley, California with $5,000 financed through credit cards, writer-director Donald G. Jackson’s Roller Blade (New World Pictures, 1986) is a 16mm, non-sync sound, hair metal dystopia with maybe-accidental strains of The Holy Mountain (1973, dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky), with a little Road Warrior, a little Alex Cox, a pinch of William Klein.

A few years earlier, Jackson did some pick-up shots with James Cameron for The Terminator, another film that posits a future gone to shit. It was a major theme of the decade. The 1980s had a crime problem. The Cold War still raged with Russia when it was still considered a nuclear threat. Apocalypse narratives satisfied the public’s born-again Christianity and desire for judgement. In Roller Blade, “frontier justice” is meted out when police authority is overwhelmed, getting “tough on crime” the unavoidable -- but secretly enjoyable -- response.

“The City of Lost Angels,” the screen says, followed by “The Second Dark Age.” Multiple characters and motivations come together. Mother Speed keeps a power crystal and a bunch of young roller girl nuns, spearheaded by Sister Sharon Cross (Suzanne Solari), who -- in acknowlegement, perhaps, of Hell’s Angel’s iconography -- wear the Nazi black iron cross on their red headdresses. In true Walking Dead Rick-and-Carl style, a widowed Marshall (Jeff Hutchinson) has got to save his son Chris, who spends most of his time hanging from a shopping cart over a vat of acid (“Triple Z 904,” to be precise). A pretty-depending-on-the-angle “hunter” rollergirl named Sister Fortune (Shaun Michelle) gains the trust and then betrays the Cosmic Order of Whitesnake Groupies Roller Blade to sell the power crystal to Doctor Saticoy and share his rule. A mulleted, directionless bum named Waco (Sam Mann, looking like Bob Oedenkirk in the Wicked Sceptre “Mr. Show” skit) kidnaps the Marshall’s son for Saticoy, has a change of heart, and joins the fight against the tyrant.

No one seems especially athletic or competent with their skates or their skateboards -- although they do okay with the butterfly knives -- and the music is always faster than the action. Fights are as laughable as they are on “The A-Team”. Softcore rapes take fucking forever and are always interrupted. Deaths lack shock and seem painless. Impact is an afterthought.

It’s hard to reconcile Roller Blade’s misogyny with its use-the-Force, “thee” and “verily” shit at first; we sense through homoerotic ritual that Mother Speed digs exploiting chicks as much as Saticoy. That is, until one starts seeing that the whole movie as a drunken wink at sanctimonious world-building. It lampoons Zen master pseudospiritual gobbledegook. The story pub-crawls from one plot point to the other, draining PBRs and smashing them against its head. It’s less a Reagan-era retread of Star Wars than it is cinematic tailgating before a Motley Crue concert. And it knows it. Roller Blade is self-aware, and has made the decision: it is better to be American -- free, wild, banging chicks at the lake on the 4th of July -- than fancy, phony, and above-the-fray.

“There is no one single inspiration for Roller Blade,” Jackson said in his last interview for the French film magazine Trash Times. “But, I have long had a love affair with the samurai sword and the Japanese samurai films. Combine this with the fact that roller skating was so popular here in L.A. -- you would see beautiful girls skating down the street all the time. From this I came up with the idea ‘roller’ for the skates and ‘blade’ for the sword.”

Although the film teases a sequel in the end credits (“Roller Blade Part II: Holy Thunder”), it was never made. It didn’t make much difference. What followed were Rollerblade Warriors: Taken By Force (1989), The Rollerblade Seven (1991), Return of the Rollerblade Seven (1992), and Legend of the Roller Blade Seven (1992) before Jackson’s death from leukemia in 2003. That they were filmed without scripts is no surprise. Good times don’t come with manuals. The power, as Mother Speed realizes, lies within.

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Donald G. Jackson’s Final Interview in Trash Times . HYPERLINK "http://www.scottshaw.com/dgjinterview.html" http://www.scottshaw.com/dgjinterview.html

Donald G. Jackson on Zen Filmmaking. HYPERLINK "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD7P215Fkv8" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZD7P215Fkv8

Donald G. Jackson at IMDB. HYPERLINK "http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0413459/" http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0413459/

Justin Martinez is a playwright living in Lawrence, Kansas.  His work can be found at www.racialfacial.com.