THE ROLLER DERBY STARS OF THE 70 s ARE BACK! In the 1970 s, they were the most popular sports stars on TV, a bigger draw than Major League Baseball. And then, virtually overnight, they disappeared until now. JAM is the story of the American Roller Derby League, a group of veteran Roller Derby stars now in their 50's that are determined to make a comeback. For seven years, award-winning filmmaker Mark Woollen chronicles league owner Tim Patten as he pours his heart and entire life savings into a revival of this uniquely American entertainment. JAM takes you on an epic journey filled with unimaginable drama, bitter rivalries, heart pounding action and an incredible cast of characters you'll never forget. Hilarious, heartbreaking, inspiring, JAM is an amazing story about the lengths people will go to achieve their dreams.
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There were two movies entitled Jam released in 2006. I actually thought I was getting the Craig Serling traffic-accident flick when I fired off a request for this one, but what I got instead was Mark Woollen's documentary on the attempt to recapture the glory days of roller derby circa 2002. (The attempt, it should be noted, is still going on as I write this; Cleveland has its own team, the Burning River Roller Girls, and it's certainly not the only city in the midwest that does.)
Thanks to both the nostalgia-based subject matter and the sense of desperation that pervades the lives of the subjects, this reminds me a great deal of Chasing Ghosts, the documentary about videogame superstars. With roller derby having had its heyday in the sixties and early seventies, however, the former stars to be found here are older, and thus even more pathetic than those in the other film. I use the word "pathetic" here not only in its current comic sense, but also in the original sense of pathos; while you're both laughing at and pitying these people, you have to admire the kind of tenacity that will cause people to bang their heads against a wall for thirty-plus years in the face of complete public indifference. (Especially since the rise in popularity of roller derby that seemed impossible a few years ago does seem to be getting underway.)
This is one of those movies where all the filmmaker really had to do was get out of the way and let the subjects do their own work, and it's amply done here. Well worth your time. *** ½
Inspiring, poignant, and hilarious, the film captures a certain quirky "only in San Francisco" sensibility as it chronicles the colorful lives of fiercely determined skaters as they doggedly pursue their roller derby dreams.