Movies »Derby

derby documentary

Why do I mention it now?

Because this hard to find gem of a movie is finally available on DVD and can be put on your netflix queue now!

Here's what I said back on

Derby, which I read about in Brix Pick The Scarecrow Movie Guide is not an easy one to find, even Photoplay (see what to do with an hour, below) didn't have it. I finally found it on Just 4 The Hell of It (who were great about quick shipping). Since it's a dub of a video, we scanned the disc quickly before watching, just to see the quality. The first scene we happened upon was of the main subject's brother looking at a Playboy as the subject's wife gets angry with him for hiding her raisins and making her take an extra trip to the grocery store just for a box of raisins, which he hid too. I knew from that small taste that it was going to be an awesome ride–and it really is.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of DVD transfer guys, the original sound has not been remastered and a good portion of some scenes are nearly inaudible. It can be frustrating, but with a little patience you'll see an early example of brilliant documentary film making.

The film focuses on Michael Snell, a down and out factory worker in Dayton, Ohio with two kids, a wife, a lazy but fascinating brother, and one big dream: to make it in roller derby. His story is juxtaposed with Charlie O'Connell's, an example of a life truly saved by the sport. He has fans, an adoring beautiful wife, a mansion overlooking Napa Valley, and a proud papa.

Snell's life is not as fantastic, aside for the proud papa who, like everyone else in this movie, is obsessed and fanatical about derby, making the film not only a portrait of another time (the early 1970s), but of another planet where roller derby is the biggest thing in the world. There's a lot of totally watchable derby footage, but the genius of the film is the way director Kaylor lets the story follow whatever happens.

And what happens? Well, aside from the raisins, his brother Butch talks to their friend who just got back from Vietnam about plans to avoid the draft “I'm a lover not a fighter” he says; Snell convinces his manager at the Firestone tire factory that his sunglasses are prescription and refuses to take them off in front of the cameras; a team member from a pro team talks about why he owns a gun (to keep rivals from breaking into his hotel room and attacking him); Snell's best friend, Roger, talks about why he owns a gun (sick of getting beaten up at bars); and, in an amazing scene, Snell and Rogers' wives confront Donna, a neighbor both of their husbands are sleeping with, about her affairs while wearing matching outfits.

Snell is trying to make it to a school in California so he can try out for the teams, but all the audience is sure he succeeds in doing is getting a loan from the bank to buy a motorcycle. Derby is making a small comeback with the suicide girls set, and I really hope this renewed interest might make someone, somewhere re-release this movie and clean up the audio.

Kaylor's work, which predates Errol Morris' by many years, should become a must-see for anyone with an interest in documentary film making. It's too bad there's nothing else on his resume except a couple 80s flicks: Nobody's Perfect starring Chad Lowe; and Carny with Jodie Foster, and Gary Busey (which means I'll obviously be trying to find these as well).

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Posted on June 15, 2009

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