Back to School Part II #11: Skatetown U.S.A. (dir by William A. Levey)


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Now that I’ve fully recovered from the trauma of writing about Grease, let me tell you about a little movie from 1979.  It’s a movie about teenagers, love, and competition.  It’s also a movie about disco and some actors who had some extra time on their hands.  It has a great soundtrack and the whole movie is pure 70s.  It even features the debut performance of a future movie star!

What film am I talking about?

SKATETOWN, USA, of course!

But before I talk about the movie, check out the trailer.  This is one of my favorite trailers of all time.  It pretty much tells you everything that you need to know about the movie.  There’s not a deceptive moment to be found in this preview:

Skatetown, U.S.A. is one of those movies that you watch and think, “This could only have been made in the 70s.”  Remember how watching Hollywood High caused me to doubt whether or not the 70s were actually all they were cracked up to be?  Well, Skatetown USA has renewed my faith!  Skatetown is such a 70s film that I personally think someone should send me an honorary coke spoon to reward me for watching it.

(Maureen McCormick, who is best known for playing Marcia Brady and who had a small role in Skatetown, wrote in her autobiography that the main thing she remembers about Skatetown is all the cocaine on the set.)

Skatetown USA doesn’t really have a traditional plot.  Instead, it’s a collection of “comedic” skits mixed in with roller skating performances and a nonstop soundtrack.  There is not a second that music is not playing in the background and, for what appears to be a low-budget film, the soundtrack is truly impressive.  Basically, almost every great disco song from the 1970s is heard at some point during Skatetown USA.  (Even that “Boogie Nights” song that Paul Thomas Anderson was apparently not allowed to actually use in Boogie Nights!  Imagine being the copyright holders who said yes to Skatetown but no to Paul Thomas Anderson…)

The film’s main character appears to be an unnamed DJ (Denny Johnston).  The DJ wears a big white afro wig and is always dancing in his booth.  Occasionally, he shoots a lightning bolt from his middle finger and suddenly, professional roller dancers appear and do a routine.  At the end of the movie, he looks at the camera, says that it’s all a fantasy, and winks.

Skatetown is the most popular disco roller rink in town.  Clean-cut teenager and all around nice guy Stan Nelson (Greg Bradford) wants to win Skatetown’s roller dancing contest.  (The prize is $1,000 and a moped!)  His best friend, Richie (Scott Baio), accompanies him and hopes to win a lot of money by betting on the outcome of the contest.  Stan angrily reprimands him, “This isn’t the streets!  This is Skatetown, U.S.A!”

That’s right — don’t mess with the good name of Skatetown!

Anyway, Stan’s actually a pretty good performer and he does this trick where he rides a skateboard while wearing roller skaters so you would think he would be a sure bet to win.

BUT NO!

The reigning Skatetown champion is Ace Johnson (Patrick Swayze, making his film debut) and we know that Ace is a bad guy because he wears all black and he occasionally snaps a whip while he’s rolling around!  Ace isn’t above cheating to win but really he doesn’t have to cheat!  Ace may be the bad guy but, seriously, he totally kicks ass while wearing roller skates.  As soon as he rolls out there, you understand why he’s the reigning champion.

See, here’s the thing with Skatetown: We’re supposed to be rooting for Stan but Ace really is a hundred times better than him.  There’s a reason why Patrick Swayze went on to have a career after Skatetown while Greg Bradford only has 8 credits on the imdb.  Swayze, even in this silly role, had movie star charisma whereas Bradford — well, he’s comes across as a nice guy but there’s nothing special about him.  Swayze, meanwhile, is dangerous and smoldering.

For instance, when Stan does his routine, his background music is The Village People singing “Macho Man” and you can’t help but snicker a little.  Whereas, when Ace performs, his background music is a slightly menacing cover of Under My Thumb.  Stan is the Village People.  Ace is the Rolling Stones.

Anyway, the film might not be good in the traditional sense but I absolutely loved Skatetown, U.S.A.  Why?  Because it’s a total time capsule! Watching it is such a totally 70s experience that I was even tempted to get a frizzy perm, start wearing bell bottoms, and stop wearing a bra.  Fortunately, the temptation passed but still, I enjoyed getting to use my cinematic time machine.

Add to that, the film itself is just so over-the-top and silly that … well, you can really believe that everyone involved in the movie was snorting mountains of cocaine in between takes.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in Skatetown, U.S.A.  Instead, it’s all bright neon, loud music, flamboyant characters, silly melodrama, and corny humor.

(My personal theory is that Skatetown, U.S.A. was taking place in the same cinematic universe of A Clockwork Orange and it was showing what normal teenagers were doing while Alex and his droogs were seeking out the ultraviolence.  The over-the-top design of Skatetown reminded me of the similar flamboyance of the Korova Milk Bar and the droogs’s bowlers and oversized codpieces weren’t that different from some of the costumes worn by the cast of Skatetown.)

Anyway, Skatetown is one of those films that everyone should see once.  Unfortunately, because of all the music in the film, it’s never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and it probably never will be because life sucks.  It is on YouTube, though it was recorded off an old VHS tape so the transfer is not the best.

Here’s Skatetown, USA:

One final note: Skatetown, USA was directed by the same William Levey who also directed Blackenstein, Hellgate, and The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington.  It was written Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween and directed a film that is well-liked by several of the writers here at the Shattered Lens, The Last Starfighter.

Back to School Part II #10: Grease (dir by Randal Kleiser)


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When it comes to reviewing Grease on this site, the film and I have a long and twisted history.  There have been several times when I was tempted to review Grease but one thing has always stopped me:

I absolutely hate this film.

Grease is one of my least favorite films and, to be honest, just thinking about it causes me pain.  Just about everyone that I know loves Grease.  They love the songs.  They love the music.  They love the performances.  They want to see it on stage.  They want to see it on the big screen.  They watch every time it pops up on AMC.

Growing up as a theater nerd means being surrounded by people who love Grease.  I cannot begin to count the number of times that I forced to watch this movie in school.  So many theater teachers seemed to feel that showing Grease in class was some sort of reward but, for me, it was pure torture.  And the fact that I was usually the only one who disliked the film made the experience all the more unbearable.

Back in 2014, when I was doing the first set of Back To School reviews, I was planning on reviewing Grease.  But I just could not bring myself to voluntarily relive the film.  Instead of putting myself through that misery, I decided to watch and review Rock ‘n’ Roll High School instead.  It was the right decision and I stand by it.

Jump forward two years and here I am doing Back to School again.  And again, for some reason, I had put Grease down as a film to review.  It’s just a movie, right?  And yet, after I finished writing my excellent review of Animal House, I again found myself dreading the idea of having to even think about Grease.

So, I said, “Fuck this,” and I promptly erased Grease from the list and I replaced it with Skatetown USA.  Then I watched Skatetown and I’m glad that I did because that was an experience that I can’t wait to write about!  And yet, I still had this nagging voice in the back of my mind.

“You’re going to have to review Grease at some point,” it said, “If not now, when?”

The voice had a point.  However, I was soon reminded that there was an even more important reason to review Grease.  A little further down on my list of Back to School films to review was a little film called Grease 2.  How could I possibly review Grease 2 if I hadn’t already reviewed Grease?  My OCD would not allow it!

And so, here I am, reviewing Grease.

Grease, of course, is a musical about teenagers in 1958.  Danny (John Travolta) is in love with Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and Sandy is in love with Danny.  But Danny’s a greaser and Sandy’s Australian!  Will they be able to work it out, despite coming from different worlds?  Of course they will!  Danny’s willing to dress up like a jock in order to impress Sandy while Sandy’s willing to wear black leather to impress Danny!  Yay!  They go together!  And they’ve got a flying car, too!  YAY!

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And then Satan arrived…

Of course, there’s other subplots as well.  For instance, Frenchy (Didi Conn) nearly drops out of school but she’s visited by Satan (Frankie Avalon) and he manages to change her mind.  And Rizzo (Stockard Channing) might be pregnant because Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) hasn’t bought any new condoms since the 8th grade.  Comparing the sensitive way that teen pregnancy was handled on a show like Degrassi: The Next Generation with the way it’s handled in Grease is enough to make you want to sing “O Canada” every day for the rest of your life.

Here’s what I do like about Grease: Stockard Channing is great as Rizzo, though it’s hard not to feel that she deserves better than a doofus boyfriend like Kenickie and a boring bestie like Sandy.  I also like You’re The One That I Want.  That’s a fun song.

But as for the rest of the movie … BLEH!  I mean, it is so BORING!  It takes them forever to get to You’re The One That I Want.  Olivia Newton-John is so wholesome that she literally makes you want to tear your hair out while John Travolta pretty much acts on auto pilot.  As for the supporting cast, most of them appeared in the stage production of Grease and they still seem to be giving stage performances as opposed to film performances.  They’re still projecting their lines to the back of the house.  Worst of all, it’s obvious that director Randal Kleiser had no idea how to film a musical because the dance numbers are so ineptly staged and framed that, half the time, you can’t even see what anyone’s doing with their feet.  If you can’t see the feet, it defeats the whole purpose of having an elaborate dance number in the first place!

So, no, I don’t like Grease.

Sorry, everyone.

However, I’m sure I’ll enjoy Grease 2….

Love you, Canada!

Love you, Canada!

Master of Horror: Boris Karloff in BEDLAM (RKO 1946)


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(This post is part of the TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS blogathon hosted by Kristen at JOURNEYS IN CLASSIC FILM! )

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Boris Karloff made a trio of films for producer Val Lewton in the mid-40’s: THE BODY SNATCHER , ISLE OF THE DEAD, and BEDLAM. The Old Master of Terror was given the opportunity to show off his acting prowess in these dark, psychological horrors. Freed from the restraint of playing yet another mad scientist or creature, Karloff excels in the roles of murderous Cabman Grey, plague-ridden General Pherides, and here as the cruel martinet of Bedlam, Master George Sims.

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Lewton cowrote the script with director Mark Robson  , “suggested by” William Hogarth’s 8th painting in the series “A Rake’s Progress”. There are a lot of sly references to Hogarth in BEDLAM, and the artist even gets a screenwriting credit. It’s 1761 London, and the class struggle between rich and poor rages…

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Music Video of the Day: Popular by Nada Surf (1996, dir. Jesse Peretz)


If I only washed my hair once every two weeks, then I would be grease city.

I’m quite sure that Nada Surf never went on to have much success, but they did make an impact with this song. I recently watched a movie all about popularity, and I’m 99% sure it has an instrumental soundalike of this song at the beginning of it. It’s called The A-List (2015).

It’s a very simple, but enjoyable music video. This is one I say is a music video that helps to set the context for the song. Alone it’s okay, but with the music video it has a setting for its’ lecture.

Director Jesse Peretz did about 20 music videos. One of them is the best Foo Fighters music video of all time that I am really surprised I haven’t done yet. He has also mainly done directing for TV shows such as Nurse Jackie and Girls.

If you haven’t seen it, then enjoy this 1996 time capsule. It’s a lot of fun.