Whether you hated Whip It due to its Hollywood treatment of roller derby, or you loved it and found yourself jonesin’ for more (or you just want to watch a fun documentary about women kicking the crap out of each other in the name of teamwork and sisterhood), you’re bound to fall for Brutal Beauty, an action-packed film by Chip Mabry that provides a behind-the-scenes look at the sport of roller derby as told by the women of the Rose City Rollers.
This film is likable for many reasons, not least of which because the women involved are passionate about their sport and about one another. It’s fun to watch Rose City Rollers teams like The Breakneck Betties and Guns ‘N’ Rollers duke it out on the rink and then join forces on the All-Star team Wheels of Justice (will they make it to Nationals? You’ll have to watch to find out!). But more than just being about fun, Brutal Beauty contextualizes the sport of roller derby and explores how participating in a full-contact sport can challenge our notions of traditional femininity. (Can you wear makeup and still be tough? Can you be tough and still be feminine? Can you wear hot pants and still feel strong? Answer: Yes.)
Another aspect of roller derby explored in Beauty is the phenomenon of the alter ego (and no, don’t call it a nickname). By choosing alter egos when they join a derby team, players also choose new personae for themselves. We see women working in their gardens, in medical offices, in schools under their legal names – and then we see them kicking serious ass under their chosen monikers (some of the catchier names include Blood Clottia and Scratcher in the Eye). It’s like the new name allows them to act in a new way. Interesting, right?
So yeah, Brutal Beauty is a fun movie about women playing an exciting sport, but the best part about it is the context it provides. We don’t just see women on the rink – we see them at home, with their romantic partners, with their kids. We see them nursing injuries (and there are a lot of those) and working on relationships. We see them win and lose, and we see them inspire others to play the game.
Oh, and there is a scene where a derby coach uses donuts to teach us the rules of the sport. Bonus.
For you Portlanders, Brutal Beauty is playing this week at The Northwest Film Center! Sponsored by your Bitch Media pals, of course. (Oh, and extra PDX points: The movie was filmed here and there is tons of Portland pride to be had. Hello Expo Center!) For you not in Portland, you can watch clips, find screenings in other areas of the country, and buy a copy of the DVD here. Go Rose City Rollers!