Jam (2006)


(director: Mark Woollen; cinematographers: Scott Mitsui/Paul Starkman; editors: Craig Protzel/Dennis Przywara/Mark Woollen; music: China Curtiss Kent; Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Myles Bender/Mark Woollen/Scott Mitsui; Sundance Channel; 2006)

“My problem was that I don’t care a lick about the roller derby, and this film still never made me care a lick about it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The roller derby after much popularity in the 1960s, died in 1973. In 1999 there was an attempt to revive it. After a difficult struggle, we are told that five years later the roller derby is beginning a slow resurgence with younger players. Director Mark Woollen (“Drummer Wanted”) films this attempt. My problem was that I don’t care a lick about the roller derby, and this film still never made me care a lick about it. Even diehard fans might be disappointed that there’s hardly any skating action from the stars, now all middle-aged and looking out of shape. The film is mostly about the obsessive drive by entrepreneurs to get this dead sport, once a healthy part of the American trash culture scene, that in its prime got higher TV ratings than hockey, basketball or baseball, back on its feet through either a TV contract or through the Internet.

The fortunes of the San Francisco-based American Roller Derby League and those derby stars pursuing their bloody American Dream of fame and fortune, rest in the hands of drawing enough rabid fans. The guy behind the revival is former skater Tim Patten, a gay man diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1983 and who now has that illness under wraps and is obsessed in bringing back the derby. His general manager is Dan Ferrari, another fan of the game with a background in theatrical promotions. They recruit the over-the-hill former stars and to their dismay find they can’t draw any sizable crowds to their high school venues. The old stars are colorful eccentrics like the gay Bay City Bombers bad-boy captain Alfonso Reyes, a 32-year vet, who copped a fee of $100 for every trick turned as a young man on the streets of his native San Francisco. Other stars highlighted include Larry Lee, Icebox, Jan Vallow, Sherry Erich, Larry Stull, Karey Marengo, Pam Schwab and Stacey Blitsch.

When some possible shady business occurs over a matter of missing receipts, the straight-shooter Patten fires the possibly unscrupulous Ferrari. In return Ferrari starts a competing league. Patten after losing his partner to AIDS in 2003, sits out the season. There’s a final update showing Patten witnessing a mild derby revival with young skaters taking the places of the old-timers who retired; though if you want my two cents, it all looks rather gloomy like these folks are wannabe pro wrestlers in search of fans for a scripted sport.

“Jam,” which is slang for a roller derby match, proves to be more of a bumpy ride dramatic reality show film than a sports film, one that’s targeted for the proles who go for such violent fixed bad guy vs. good guy events rather than spend their hard-earned dough on a shrink or booze.

The doc was the winner of the 2006 South by Southwest Film Festival Grand Jury Prize.