Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers

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“Too much ego and not enough doughnuts.”

For the next entry, we leap forward to 2009, and Portland – a city which all we know about, we learned from Portlandia. And, on that basis, of course it’s a city which has roller derby, where it sprung, virtually fully-fledged to four-figure crowds. This is less of a landmark doc, in that it doesn’t cover the beginning, middle or end. It’s basically a year or so in the lives of the participants in the Rose City Rollers, which is the Portland league. It covers both their local season, and then, once that’s over, follows the travelling team, the Wheels of Justice, first as they head down to San Francisco to take on their hated rivals, then over to Denver for the regional championships.

S’okay. The problem is there’s very little here any fan of the sport won’t already know about, or have seen before, and not enough to draw in anyone else. Is it heretical to say that roller derby chicks can be stereotypical in their individuality, just as much as those in the mainstream they profess to detest? That is the impression that comes over here, and a couple of the women are… Well, to be honest: really annoying. I guess there’s a certain kind of extroverted type who will be attracted to roller-derby. But simply because you strap on wheels and give yourself a fake name, doesn’t necessarily stop you from being an irritating bi… Well, let’s just say: I don’t care in the slightest what kind of tattoos you get, and move on, shall we? As for “Roller derby saved my soul”, even as a fan of the sport, I reckon that counts as going overboard. What next? “Roller derby cured my tumour”?

It’s a shame, since when concentrating on the sport, the documentary is decent enough. There’s a great explanation of the rules involving donuts [incorporating a plug for the city’s famous Voodoo Doughnut store!], and they also provide a better insight into the separate and largely distinct roles of jammers, pivots and blockers, as well as the different skills needed for each. In contrast to some other leagues, the theatrical fights and things like the punishment wheel are nowhere to be found in Portland. However, it’s not long before we’ve abandoned derby and are back at watching one women yell at another through a bathroom door. As an insight into the appeal of the pastime, it’s a good deal less than satisfactory.

[This one can currently be seen on Hulu without a subscription being needed.]

Dir: Chip Maloy

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