United Skates
(Tina Brown, Dyana Winkler)

A scene from Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler’s  United Skates  {Photo: Sweet Ninja Films LLC}

A scene from Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler’s United Skates {Photo: Sweet Ninja Films LLC}

Tina Brown and Dyana Winkler’s United Skates does what most good documentaries tend to do: it immerses itself within a subculture and communicates the ideas and preoccupations of that culture in a visually appealing and informative, but relaxed way. They examine the decline of roller-skating as a communal gathering in relation to the Black enclave that supports it, where the activity with its litany of rules (all exclusionary fiats that that would typically deny non-white skaters) struggles to survive. United Skates is thorough without ever being overwhelming, as they place the importance of rinks within a historical and cultural context, suggesting their vitality to the hip-hop scene of the 1980s (with requisite interview footage from Coolio and Salt-N-Pepa).

These bits of historical rejoinders are linked with footage involving a family contending with the loss of all the rinks in L.A., forced to reckon with a reality where their communal hobby is stripped from them. These scenes are vital in contextualizing the immediate significance of having such a key part of your identity close shop, as if an entire language is rendered antiquated overnight. Brown and Winkler also prove capable of rendering some especially vivid, ephemeral imagery when observing skaters on the rink as well. The two also share cinematography credits, which makes their commitment to rendering a narrative a little frustrating. Issue aside, United Skates is an exceedingly entertaining and genuinely revealing look into a roller-skating subculture that I frankly knew next to nothing about.