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Hell On Wheels (2007) – DVD Review

Hell On Wheels DVD cover


Directed by: Bob Ray
Starring: The ladies of Bad Girl, Good Woman and the Texas Rollergirls


  • Deleted Scenes
  • Music Videos:
    • “Rollergirls” by USS Friendship
    • “Say Something Nasty” by Nashville Pussy
  • Commentaries:
    • Director Ray and Producer Werner Campbell
    • The Texas Rollergirls
    • Bad Girl Good Woman

Released by: IndiePix
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Rent It

[ad#longpost]Women’s roller derby is a raunchy mix of athleticism, theatrics, and a bit of the old ultra-violence. There are teams and leagues all over the country and all over the world. Even my home town of Tallahassee has a league. But where did all this start? The rebirth of this sport was in Austin, Texas during 2001 and the documentary Hell On Wheels was there at the tumultuous start. After the first organizer flaked on the league, the four captains of the derby teams took it on themselves to nurture it. With the blood, sweat, and tears from them and all the skaters, the league run by Bad Girl, Good Woman Productions was starting to take off. But concerns about money–like where it was being spent and who was getting it–began to surface. Communication between the Council and the players broke down. Finally a split between many of the skaters and management led to a creation of a rival league, the Texas Rollergirls. Told you it was tumultuous.

What’s interesting about this roller derby documentary is it isn’t really about roller derby. It’s really about drama. The drama of a group with lots of passion working to create something fun and exciting. But with fast success and lack of experience, the passion turns toxic and the group falls apart. This could be about a band, a start-up company, or any other creative endeavor. However, the filmmakers were lucky to be there when all the problems were happening. So you can see as they happen meetings where complaints were made and ultimatums were issued. This gives the film a visceral and organic feel that most documentaries can’t have.

Hell On Wheels: Championship Bout

This can be considered a mixed blessing. Having this real life drama happening before you is great for a filmmaker. But it means that other parts will have to go by the wayside. For instance, why roller-derby? Seriously, this sport faded out in the mid-1970s. How many of the people involved ever saw roller-derby? So why did they think this was ready for a comeback? There is also little in the way of how the teams improved their skating skills or developed their theatrical antics to entertain the crowd. This and other questions aren’t really answered. The filmmakers don’t do a good enough job getting the audience to ignore these questions. A perfect example of this is showing that Bad Girl, Good Woman Productions is female run. At one point, they even call their managers She-E-Os. But after the split happened, BGGW gets an outside business consultant. A male business consultant. Nowhere in the movie is it mentioned why they abandoned this principle or where he came from. If you are going to introduce scenes that cause questions to be asked, you should try to answer them.

Where this DVD shines is in the extras. There are a couple of low production value hard rock music videos featuring some of the roller girls. The deleted scenes were actually interesting this time. There is nearly a hour of cut material where players were featured more, training was given more detail, and other bouts were shown. With clips like this, it’s easy to see what could have been with this movie. A nice touch is brief technical information about the deleted scene. It tells you if is a rough cut or if color correction was run on the footage. Usually scenes like this are thrown unto a disc as shovelware, but this detail shows the filmmakers gave a shit about what the viewer was getting. Another example is the commentaries. Not only do you get commentary from the director and the producer, but from players on both sides of the roller derby divide, Bad Girl, Good Woman Productions and The Texas Rollergirls.

Hell On Wheels: Player Cha Cha suffers injury

The commentary from director Ray and producer Campbell is the usual technical description of the filmmaking process. Still, you get some interesting bits like how the film crew made very clear that anything revealed during an interview would not be used in any other interviews. This helped the subjects open up knowing that what they said would not be used as ammunition against someone else. The two do not give a dry technical discussion. The other two commentaries are from the women who were there. There is an awful lot of laughing and more than a fair bit of cattiness. One of the benefits is that they are able to give context that the filmmakers couldn’t. One particular example is one scene had a BGGW meeting where they stated that they were several thousand dollars in the red. The next scene is what looks like players participating in baby oil wrestling. It is implied that they were doing this as a league fundraiser. But on their commentary, they said this was done as a charity fundraiser. The main thing to do get is that there is still bitterness years after the events in the film. That is kinda sad but I have witnessed meltdowns in several groups and I have seen how long lasting hurt feelings and egos can be. With these strong special features, Hell On Wheels is in the Rent It column.

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