- Blood on the Flat Track, and: Whip It
The documentary Blood on the Flat Track and feature film Whip It follow stories of the most recent and modern reincarnation of roller derby, resurrected by a group of women in Austin, Texas, the city featured in Whip It. Blood on the Flat Track highlights the teams and women of the Rat City Roller Derby of Seattle, Washington, while Whip It tells the fictional story of Bliss Cavendar, a seventeen-year-old outcast who joins the Hurl Scouts, the worst team in the Austin derby circuit. Both films explore the aggression of roller derby, gender roles, and alternative lifestyles associated with the sport.
Blood on the Flat Track follows the early years of Rat City Roller Derby and its successes. Made up of four teams (Grave Danger, Sockit Wenches, Throttle Rockets, and the Derby Liberation Front), the new league eventually contends with and beats founding teams from Texas. The documentary focuses intently on the skaters, their roles in the [End Page 137] derby, their relationships with other skaters, and how roller derby is perceived by the public. A grassroots league, Rat City Roller Derby’s founding players continue to do much of the work required for setting up the Derby venue, creating a rulebook, making programs, marketing bouts, handling public relations, and booking bands and half-time acts. In addition to balancing jobs, family, and skating, many participants work hard to keep the league running.
In Whip It, the main protagonist Bliss feels stuck in the small, blue-collar town of Bodeen, Texas, where her mother pressures her to enter beauty pageants. Despite her mother’s insistence on proper appearance and behavior, Bliss rebels against normative expectations and at one point even dyes her hair blue. During a shopping trip to Austin with her mother, Bliss sees a flyer for the roller derby. She and her best friend, Pash (another teenager eager to escape the dullness of Bodeen), sneak away to Austin for the evening to watch roller derby, and Bliss discovers what will eventually become her new love. While lying to her parents, Bliss begins to travel covertly to Austin by bus and eventually makes the Hurl Scouts, notoriously the worst team in the league, despite their capable and oft-exasperated coach, Razor. (Whip It also examines Bliss’s relationships with her parents, Pash, and her love interest, Oliver.)
Both films showcase the aggression that is present in roller derby. Blood on the Flat Track spends a considerable amount of time emphasizing the physical aspect of the sport, showing multiple fights and scuffles and discussing numerous injuries with the skaters. Aggressive behavior plays a large role in Whip It as well, as the film stresses the full-body contact of the sport. At first Bliss, whose derby name is Babe Ruthless, struggles both with taking hits and hitting other players. As she develops though, she becomes more comfortable with the contact necessary to win bouts. Furthermore, the film highlights the aggression of one player in particular—Smashley Simpson plays roughly, fights other players, and is regularly tossed out of bouts. She even tackles and play-fights her fiancé for fun. This shared focus on the full-contact nature of roller derby helps to illustrate that women’s sports can be action-packed and aggressive. Instead of the typical trope of femininity, these films depict women athletes as tough competitors.
Another important aspect of both films is the relationships that develop on the teams and with others outside roller derby. In both Blood on the Flat Track and Whip It, the skaters develop close relationships with one another. Blood on the Flat Track shows different types of relationships—some developed through roller derby, like the romance of two opposing skaters, Shovey Chase and Kitty Kamikaze, and others strengthened through a commitment to the derby, such as the mother-daughter teammates, Hot...