Leave it on the Track
My hope was that the documentary was going to show us the real people behind the derby and what motivates them to play. Was it really as Whip It (Filmstalker review) showed it? What was the roller derby really like? A documentary could certainly show the real story and perhaps tell us non-derby people everything we needed to know about how big the sport was.
It did, although to be honest I wasn't sold at first.
I hit a wall of disappointment almost immediately when I started watching the film, the titles, the picture quality and the picture ratio all made me think I was watching a poor video recording from the eighties. I expected the quality of the picture to be reflected in many other aspects of the film, certainly on the big screen the picture quality isn't very good at all but the film bucks the expectations and is surprisingly enjoyable.
Another worry that I felt early on was that the film was going to assume a certain amount of knowledge about the sport that I clearly don't, or rather didn't have. It moved into the teams and the opening action of the final game without really explaining what the rules where or who the teams were, basically everything that a beginner would need to know.
It was just around this time that the film turned around and began to weave in the rules of the game as told by the players themselves while keeping the action going. At the same time it also began to tell us about the players and their stories as well as those of the teams and their journey to the final. To be honest I was a little too impatient, perhaps because I had been put off by the perceived quality of the film, but when I gave it some time the film demonstrated that it was very well crafted and especially for someone like me who knew nothing about roller derby.
The poor quality of the picture was soon out of my mind because the documentary side of the film is well assembled and edited and pulls your interest into the drama of the final and the players themselves, it also helps you to understand some of the history of roller derby both old and new and the rules of the game, all easily told and blended with the action of the training and the final game. The editing is perhaps where the strength comes, delivering it all in a strong documentary that blends the interview segments in with good timing.
What I was most surprised about is that the action is pretty full on, it's not dainty ladies playing at sport, these women are taking this seriously, they're professionals and they play for real. There are some surprisingly huge hits that got the jaded press audience saying "ooh" and "aah" cringing at some of the knockdowns and some of the genuine injuries. The broken arm is perhaps the most horrible injury but it was from older footage and it didn't seem as though this was really something that happened often, perhaps included just to inflate the danger for the audience. Well that's what I thought until during the final there was a terrifying scream and one of the players dropped. The scenes that followed certainly did change my mind.
There's a good level of humour in the film too, mainly through the interviews with some of the cool characters in the game, when I say some I mean mostly all because they all show a great love for what they do and take it all very seriously, including their characters.
What comes out more than anything in the documentary is the passion that the women, and the men behind the scenes, have for the game. Like professional athletes they find it hard to retire and let go of something that is so obviously such an important part of their lives.
As the final game gets going I found that I was well into the action and the drama of the battle for the points was managing to pull me towards the end of my seat. By this point I was fully versed in the game play and the rules and I was starting to root for one of the teams.
It was a little struggle to keep up with the flow of the action though as the game moved so quickly and the cameras didn't manage to convey the flow of the game as well as I would have hoped for, it's something that I also noticed in Whip It (Filmstalker review) where the action outpaced the film.
Leave it on the Track is a strong documentary despite the opening looks. It's well edited and pieced together to develop your understanding of the game, the rules, the teams and the players while unfolding the fast paced action of the final.
I would have liked more coverage from the action so that it was easier to follow, but it does a good job of building the drama and the tension while remaining fun and showing the ladies behind the two big teams.
All in all it makes you either want to play the game or go and watch it for real, and it's not impossible with so many worldwide leagues. Leave it on the Track is a great place to start exploring the passionate and exciting world of Roller Derby.