dir. Jack Hill
"I'm just trying to liberate Andy here from her bra in the interest of higher education."
Not a year goes by in which we aren't inundated with a slew of overly experimental/intellectualized filmic treatises on college life. Functioning less as pieces of entertainment, these esoteric films are determinedly abstract in their desire to not only question the institutions of modern capitalistic society but also in tearing down the foundations of narrative film. With Colleges being such bastions of intellectual growth and debate, is it any wonder that the college film would follow suit? Paradoxically, these films have become staid in their singleminded focus on experimentation. Time was, a movie in which a leather clad Jesus raped a homeless man and recited excerpts from Marx's Communist Manifesto all while imagess of Fred Ott's Sneeze and Hello Kitty were superimposed over the proceedings, would produce a reaction other than boredom. Sure, college film students have eschewed these trends and produced their own conventionally entertaining films, but this tendency has yet to catch on in the mainstream. Every so often, however, a Hollywood film about college life comes along that decides to buck the rules and have a little fun.
In the mid seventies, Jack Hill answered this call for a new direction in college films with his picture The Swinging Cheerleaders. Cheerleaders achieves the perfect symbiosis of astute social commentary and awesome rockin' tits. This boobalicious film is equal parts Godard and masturbatory teenage male fantasy.
Cheerleaders follows Mesa State campus activist/feminist Kate Cory (Jo Johnston) in her quest to infiltrate the cheerleading squad for the purpose of writing an expose on this demeaning organization. Aiding her in this endeavor is her activist boyfriend Ron (Ian Sander). Her final treatise on the cheerleading squad is to be published in their radical underground campus paper. Interestingly, the casting of Johnston in the Kate role, continues a long Hollywood tradition of placing actors in high school and college films who are well into their thirties. Appropriately enough, the school's mascot in this film is the Cougar.
Although she is initially disdainful of her fellow cheerleaders, Kate's close contact with them has forced her to reevaluate her opinions. Before long, Kate learns the error of her former ways. Although she previously looked on the jocks and and cheerleaders as remnants of an outdated neanderthal mindset, a roll in the hay with quarterback Buck (Ron Hajek) soon puts her mind straight. It turns out that years of inadequate sex with the idealistic Ron had warped her mind in such a way that she was preoccupied with frivolities like the Equal Rights Amendment and reproductive rights. Thus is presented one of the film's prominent themes: all a woman needs in life is a decent dicking.
After being discarded by Kate, Ron's true colors shine through. He sets about exacting his revenge by bringing some fellow hippies over to gangbang a drunken cheerleader, Andy (Cheryl Smith). The previously meek football player Ross (Ric Carrott) overcomes his timid ways when he learns of this travesty, and treats Ron to a little chin music. Apparently, Cheerleaders' writer director Jack Hill must have once had an experience with hippies similar to one that Jimmy James once had. With this film Hill not only put the final nail in the coffin of the sixties counterculture but also pissed on its well trampled grave.
After abandoning her expose on the cheerleading organization, Kate soon uncovers a scandal she has dubbed the Mesa State Watergate (Now that's what I call timeliness!). It turns out that the alumnus Mr. Putnam (George Wallace) is working in conjunction with Coach Turner (Jack Denton) and the smooth math professor Thorpe (Jason Sommers) to fix football games in order to pull in a little scratch. Discovery of this scandal forces Kate to come to this cogent realization: screw women's lib, college sports point spread fixing is the biggest issue that America's youth needs to concern itself with. And so it is with steely determination that she pursues this story, hoping in the process to bring down the corrupt school officials.
Although this film is quite typical of seventies sexploitation fare, the finesse that director Hill brings to the proceedings is second to none. Hill was the premier exploitation artist of the sixties and seventies. With films running the gamut of Spider Baby's cheeky horror, to the blaxploitation of Foxy Brown and Coffy (his crowning achievement), to the women in prison films The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage; he excelled in all arenas of exploitation filmmaking. His knack for dialogue, in particualr, elevates his pictures slightly above his exploitation peers. Watch, for instance, this scene from Cheerleaders in which Professor Thorpe's cuckquean Jessica (Mae Mercer) confronts the cheerleader Lisa, her husband's bangin' buddy:
Although the tone of this scene is not representative of the film as a whole, it is a triumph of awesomocity. There's a certain poetic quality to a line like: "And make sure you're careful whose man you fuck with the next time you fuck with somebody's man." The beautiful symmetry of the line "you fuck with" repeated at the beginning and end of the sentence weights it with a sense of purpose and conviction. Although some might dismiss such dialogue as mindless vulgarity, there is no denying the craftsmanship here.
The Swinging Cheerleaders certainly doesn't rank up there with Hill's best (Spider Baby, Coffy, The Switchblade Sisters), but it is a noble enterprise nonetheless. Venturing into the kind of politically charged territory that few others dared tread, Hill stripped bare the corruption at the heart of America's vaunted educational system. Where most would examine institutional racism, sexism or class division, Hill laid bare the true unspoken crime -- gambling. He asked the questions that those in the mainstream lacked the testicular fortitude to ask. This world of moral ambiguity is one with few answers and less heroes, and, most importantly, tits.
[Side note: Perhaps I have exaggerated the amount of boobage on display in this picture. Although The Swinging Cheerleaders has its fair share of magnificent racks, plenty of other seventies flicks, such as Hollywood Boulevard, Kentucky Fried Movie, and the works of Russ Meyer, have many more breasts on prominent display. Incidentally, these films belong to a genre I have dubbed, "movies whose existences are based solely or in part on their directors' need for new spank material".]