The James Clayton Column: Olympicsploitation movies
With Fast Girls paving the way for the Olympics, James comes up with a few sports-themed British movies of his own…
If you hurry you might still be able to catch Fast Girls at the cinema. It’s a film about girls who move fast - not the kind of women who say, “Nice to meet you, I really like you, let’s have sex” but rather female sprinters.
The trailer tells you everything you need to know about the flick, and may in fact encapsulate the entire movie in the space of two minutes and 15 seconds.
As far as I can gather from the exposition-heavy teaser, Fast Girls is about the British women’s sprint relay team and their trials on the journey to track-and-field triumph at the World Athletics Championships. The pursuit of victory is complicated by personal relationships, romance, ego clashes and self-doubt, but you know it’s going to build up to a happy ending and success at the climax.
So far so conventional for a sporting underdog story, but I don’t want to talk about how Fast Girls comes on like a female Rocky on the running track, or how mishandled marketing material has put me off seeing a movie. What I want to discuss is the film’s timeliness and the sub-genre that director Regan Hall and his cast may have inadvertently spawned.
The London 2012 Olympics start on July 27th and, in effect, Fast Girls is a sort of build-up blockbuster to get cinemagoers in the mood for the games.
If you were being cynical you could see it as a calculated cash-in on current affairs, riding the back of a bandwagon in hope of getting box office revenue. Dismissing it as such would be pretty cruel, however, and I’d argue that the existence of Fast Girls is a good thing for the British film industry and British society as a whole ahead of the international sporting celebration.
‘Jaded’, ‘unenthusiastic’ and, yes, ‘cynical’ are default positions for British people, and the London Olympics have suffered as a result. How will anyone outside the clique of commercial sponsors enjoy the games if the host nation hates its own party and does nothing but complain or display ambivalence towards it? What’s clearly needed are grand scale interventions, and events to build up momentum and hype ahead of the athletics extravaganza. Fast Girls is a movie that’s doing that promotional work and gearing the masses up for the greatest sporting show on Earth.
The film about the female 4x100 metre relay team sets a precedent with its zeitgeist surfing (zeitgeist sprinting?) and could potentially, if people act fast enough and run with the impetus, spawn a new movie genre. This new genre would be what I’ll call ‘Olympicsploitation’ - niche pictures timed to coincide with London 2012 and act as buzz-generating cinematic companion pieces to all the sporting events taking place over July and August.
‘Exploitation’ is a dirty word with negative connotations but if you take a glance through film history, you’ll find that ruthless opportunism has resulted in the creation of a whole stack of fantastic movies. Look, for instance, to early 70s Blaxploitation, which saw African-American filmmakers ride rising black political consciousness and the success of movies like Coffy and Shaft.
Likewise, many cool chopsocky flicks came out of Hong Kong’s Brucesploitation boom as Bruce Lee went stellar and kickstarted the kung fu craze. What I’m suggesting now is that the British film industry strike while the iron is hot, and create Olympic-themed exploitation movies to both increase interest in the games and recoup some box office takings in an age of depression and recession.
Underdog sports flicks never fail to inspire and boost morale, and alongside the uplifiting escapism, these feature-length tourist reels would have economic benefits. We could reel off really cheap movies within days and the likely outcome of these public works would be more popular enthusiasm, amplified ticket sales and a revitalised British film industry.
Fast Girls has thrown down the gauntlet and laid the track for others to follow. I’d be happy to take the baton and act as the Roger Corman-style Olympicsploitation impresario and light up the cultural landscape with an array of feel-good movies crackling ahead of the 27th July opening ceremony.
If we can get them made and release them in quick succession, it’ll be like a cinematic sports day with delusions of grandeur. Here are several Olympicsploitation movie pitches that I’ve worked out, and all I need now is the backing of Lord Seb Coe, a few film school students as a crew and a cast of amateur athletes. Oh, and the chameloenesque talents and mo-cap acting abilities of Andy Serkis if he fancies making a cameo, as he did in Wild Bill (another British feature that used the upcoming Olympiad as a contextual backdrop). On your marks, get set and go greenlight these Olympicsploitation tales if you please...
The Sprinter and the Pauper
Can the unemployed 38-year-old from St. Albans who’s swapped places with jaded Jamaican speed king Usain Bolt keep up the pretence and win the 100m gold medal at the games? This film features Andy Serkis playing Usain Bolt.
Attack the Starting Block
Can the kids from Attack The Block thwart the alien invasion attempt to occupy the Olympic Stadium in time to compete in the 4x400m relay? This film features Andy Serkis playing a flesh-eating alien in running shoes.
The Magnificent Rugby Sevens
Can the British rugby sevens squad defend the Olympic Village from land-grabbing real estate bandits who want to turn it into a wretched hive of scum and villainy? This film features Andy Serkis playing a wicked land developer who’s been possessed by Satan.
Can the skinny little bespectacled orphan with an odd lightning scar come to terms with his newly discovered superhuman strength and magic touch and throw for a podium finish? This film features Andy Serkis playing our hero’s loyal pet owl.
Gone With the Windsurfer
Can the two tempestuous surfer rivals rise above their pride and find love and medals success on the coast off Weymouth? This film features Andy Serkis playing a talking surfboard (it operates as both a sailboard and a sentient voice of conscience for one of our lead protagonists).
Frock, Shuttlecock and Two Smoking Racquets
Can Britain’s most promising young badminton talent get away from his East End gangster mates and make it to mixed doubles glory with his posh partner at the games? This film features Andy Serkis as a cross-dressing drug baron traumatised by a bad badminton injury he suffered as a small child.
Fortune and glory awaits. Let the games begin.
You can read James' previous column here.