Skating in movies has always been an interesting conversation between exploitation and documentation. In Hollywood, it’s often easy to see how the lines between those two types of production perspectives get blurred.
In many kinds of movies, it actually feels like you’re watching both an exploitation of a topic as well as an in-depth passionate documentation or dissection of that particular phenomenon. Of course, the reason why this is the case is that the underlying motive behind Hollywood, of course, is to make money. No surprises there.
Hollywood is after all, a business. They would only produce content if there is a market for it and the content that they produce isn’t necessarily meant to appeal to one’s artistic senses or to satisfy one’s need for documentary accuracy and faithfulness. Their primary concern is to identify trends and create a movie that speaks to those trends so people who are interested to those trends would watch the movie. Pretty straightforward.
From this perspective, Hollywood strategy is not really much different from that of bloggers. When contemporary bloggers hear that a particular topic is trending on Twitter or Facebook, they can be counted on to write a blog post talking about that topic. Now, they might not know much about that topic, but that’s not going to stop them.
It may be obvious that they don’t really care much or that they’re really not passionate about a topic but once again, that’s not the point. The point is get on top of hot trends, create content and create money. This is Hollywood 100% of the way.
I need you to wrap your mind around this thesis because that’s precisely what plays up when you look at all the films released from Hollywood and independent studios all over the United States regarding the topic of skating. Whether were talking about individual skating, roller skating, or skating as a spectator sport, non ice skating movies tend to follow the same script.
The Earliest Movies
The earliest movies involving skating, or roller skates to be precise, actually came in the 1950s and the 1960s. During this historical period, the automobile became all the rage in the United States. After World War 2, the United States emerged as the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. Europe was pretty much in ruins, along with the rest of the world.
Nobody can come close. Japan was still recovering. The United States pretty much accounted for a huge chunk of all automobiles produced. While a lot of this output went to overseas markets, the vast majority of them stayed within the United States. This is definitely reflected in popular culture. It seems that there are plenty of jobs.
In many cases, you didn’t even need to graduate from high school to get a job and the American middle class, as a result of all this post-World War 2 industrial boom, was huge. You did not have to be particularly smart, ambitious, or driven to join the middle class. In fact, jobs were all over the place so that even people who didn’t make that much money, thanks to the modern invention of home financing, could afford a home.
This is where suburban development became all the rage. These involve concerted farmlands that got turned into massive tract housing. We’re talking miles upon miles of wide concrete roads dotted with houses that seemed like they were produced by a cookie cutter, seriously. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s as if these houses were just cranked out by a template by the thousands. And given this development, cars were an absolute necessity, especially in the American Southwest.
In Los Angeles or Southern California in particular, cars became all the rage and this is reflected in the movies around that time. The drive in was the place where boys and girls hooked up. It was also the place that featured waitresses in roller skates.
There were drive-in restaurants. You would drive-in to a restaurant, order a burger, and somebody on roller skates would bring your food to you. Pretty awesome. Well, thanks to changes in America’s car culture, the drive-in restaurant is a thing of the past. You no longer have restaurants that are just drive-ins.
Many restaurants now, particularly fast food chains like McDonalds have a drive-in section but that’s not the drive-in restaurant I’m talking about. These restaurants are just huge parking lots where people park their car, order, and somebody in roller skates would bring them their food. People would just park on their car to eat. That’s how central the car was to the American experience.
Movies that featured drive-in restaurants were the first movies to highlight roller skates. However these movies just showed roller skates incidentally. They were not the star of the show. Roller skating as a theme, really got big in the 1970s. This is due to the roller skating craze of the 1970s.
In addition to disco music and bell bottom pants, roller skates became all the rage. This explains the huge explosion in roller skating-themed movies. One trend in particular is roller skate racing in roller rinks became really popular and this explains the 1975 film Rollerball.
If you watched Rollerball, you can tell that it is just an exploitation film. It was just a film made to capitalize on the roller rink experience. It’s not really high art. It doesn’t really explore the human condition. It just plays up roller skating because there’s money to be made.
After that, there were other roller skate themed movies like Xanadu and others. The bottom-line here is that the roller skating theme has pretty much died out but it’s only a matter of time until the next generation of inline skates and rollerblading would trigger another wave of movies. You can definitely rely on Hollywood to exploit a nice hot consumer trend.
I suspect skating will continue to be part of the cultural vocabulary of Hollywood or even Broadway precisely because it provides a setting to some of the pieces of the ever changing and ever challenging bits and pieces of a greater American culture.