Haunted Flower reviews "Hell on Wheels"

This movie is coming soon to the Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival on Sunday, November 14th!

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1 DVD Disc (2009)

“Hell on Wheels” is a documentary that covers the birth of all-girl roller derby directed by Bob Ray. In Austin, Texas, the idea is hatched and a league created in 2001. Over five years, this camera crew followed the progress of the league as it grew, split, and formed into two leagues — one banked track and one flat track and all the drama in between of an all-women run organization.

In any organization, there is drama. When it’s a bunch of tough women, it can be a little worse. It’s not as catty, but it’s pretty intense as four women take charge becoming the She-E-O’s and act as dictators to the rest of the group. When they start getting the idea that money can be made, they allocate the vote structure so that they can never be voted out or out-voted and loosely give out shares of the league that is in debt. Bad Girl Good Woman Productions eventually has 65 out of 80 skaters leave due to the drama and unfairness. The ones who left formed a new flat track league called the Texas Rollergirls, created a democratic structure within the league, and formed WFTDA, the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association which today has over 150 leagues and is the model for league’s such as my own — the Circle City Derby Girls. One of the girls who left to help organize the second league was Melissa “Melicious” Jowlwan who later wrote the book “Roller Girl” about the experience.

BGGW tries to revamp their image by becoming the Texas Lonestar Rollergirls and buying a banked track. Many injuries resulted from the short training schedule before having their first bout and the climb back to fame and fortune was a long one. Eventually moving to their practice warehouse, they became the most successful banked track derby league in the country and were the basis for the short-lived series “Rollergirls” on A&E. It lasted one season and several of the skaters in it can be seen in this documentary like Cha Cha, Luna, Lux, and others.

Both “Rollergirls” Season 1 on DVD and “Roller Girl” the book were loaned to me by a friend in the Indianapolis area when word spread that I was joining roller derby myself. They are both eye openers into the beginning where girls would emphasize the theatricality of falls, fighting, and spin a penalty wheel for spankings to sell sexuality to get attention for their sport. Since then roller derby through WFTDA has bloomed into a legitimate sport for athletes who train very hard, some have backgrounds in speed skating, and compete in tournaments against other WFTDA teams.

Bonus Features:

There is LOTS of commentary! One track is by director and producer, another track features the girls from Bad Girl Good Woman Productions including captains of several of the teams, another track features girls from Texas Rollergirls including Rachel, on of their trainers under the name Sparkle Plenty. I listened to the BGGW version first and the girls are very catty, drinking during the commentary, and you can expect a lot of swearing from all the roller girls, and they still defend their decisions entirely. They disagree that they were plotting and manipulative and claim that they weren’t smart enough to think of all those things. Most interestingly was that the footage of girls wrestling around on the floor in a bar for a fundraiser in bikini wear was not even for BGGW but for a Rugby fundraiser and was presented incorrectly. The Texas Rollergirls are a little calmer, more laid back and look back on the early days pretty fondly.

The director and producer’s commentary is by far the most professional and standard to what I usually hear. The story of how they came up on this story is pretty interesting — they were going to make a documentary about something completely different and it fell through. They were drowning their sorrows about the setback at a local bar in Austin when they were approached by some girls raising money to start a roller derby league. They looked at each other and realized they had an opportunity to check out roller derby revival right in Austin, Texas! They thought they would only be filming for one season but the real story ended up being about the evolution of the group itself and splitting off into two separate leagues and where the sport went after that. Their friends pestered them for years asking what happened to their documentary since it was so slow getting together with 500 hours of footage, but it finally came together and at a running time of 90 minutes.

There are 41 Deleted Scenes — by far the most I have ever seen on a DVD! That clearly shows the extent of footage that was taken and the type of concise editing to shape the story. You get more details on Luna chipping a tooth, a woman breaking her arm and her journey to the hospital, the loss and switch of venue, more squabbles with the council and players on their separate time, etc, etc. Unfortunately, it is lacking a “Play All” button which means selected to watch each scene 41 times is pretty annoying.

There are also two music videos: “Rollergirls” by USS Friendship and “Say Something Nasty” by Nashville Pussy.

Roller Derby is an amazing sport and to check out more information about the league I play for, the Circle City Derby Girls, go to http://www.circlecitysocialites.com and our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/circlecitysocialites.

Here’s my facebook photo album of my roller derby journey as Jackie Bauer: