The Online Underground- Suzy Hotrod: Roller Derby Star
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles highlighting high-quality, low-budget films that are available for free online.
“You think you’re a normal person, but everybody else finds you extremely fascinating.”
Conceptually, making a good documentary isn’t hard. Of course, there’s a lot of work that goes into it, but, at its core, a good document is nothing more than putting an interesting person on camera. This is something that Werner Herzog has done his entire career. Herzog is a master because he finds interesting people and put them on camera.
This is the idea behind “Character” an ambitious series of hour-long documentaries from Brooklyn director and musician Leon Chase. Simply find an interesting person and let them tell their story.
The second film in the series, Suzy Hotrod: Roller Derby Star, dives into the life and passions of Jean Schwarzwalder (aka Suzy Hotrod), an underground celebrity in the sport of roller derby. The documentary is understandably straight-forward.
Shot on a camcorder for next to no money, the film isn’t able to expand beyond a series of talking head interviews cut together with serviceable but middling footage. Despite this, Suzy Hotrod: Roller Derby Star is a delight.
Touching on everything from the history of roller derby to Brooklyn’s affordable housing crisis, the film wanders its way through an exceptionally interesting life in such a carefree and haphazard way that it starts to feel as if you’ve somehow become part of the story.
There is no theme or central conflict, in fact, the multiple national titles and MVP awards won by Suzy Hotrod are treated as a simple matter of fact. There’s nothing to propel the movie forward but the charisma of its characters and the eccentricity of the world they live in, and it needs nothing else.
Suzy Hotrod: Roller Derby Star has the same problems of most low-budget productions. There’s a noticeable drop in sound and picture quality, but for the most part, it’s irrelevant.
If there’s one flaw to film its the way in which Suzy Hotrod’s skills are displayed. Throughout, Suzy Hotrod has a well-known reputation as one of the all-time greatest roller derby players, which is undoubtedly true, but there’s no opportunity for the film to show us why. Instead, we are frequently told she is great with only a handful of out-of-context scenes of her skating.
Overall, Suzy Hotrod: Roller Derby Star is a wonderful experience and is a quintessential example of high-quality no-budget documentary filmmaking.