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.
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.