Director: Paul Glickler
USA - 1972
Cheerleaders is a special film. A special film that, if you’ll
pardon the cliché, is not unlike an onion. Not in the sense that it’s white,
round and malodorous, but more along the lines of being multi-layered. On
the superficial surface The
Cheerleaders appears to be a simple sexploitation film: lots of
gratuitous nudity, lots of not-so-subtle innuendo, and lots of promiscuous
sex. But when the more discriminating viewer takes the time and patience
necessary to examine this film on a more spiritual level, one realizes
that The Cheerleaders offers a
plethora of philosophical insight that is enlightening, but at the same
time, neither boring or preachy.
Our story is
about Jeannie, a troubled teen in the midst of that tumultuous phase where
she’s no longer a little girl, but not quite a woman. She has
overbearing parents, few friends that understand her, and a significant
other, Norm, whose multiple occupations forces him to neglect her both
physically and emotionally.
cheerleaders of Amorosa High, however, represent just the opposite.
They’re carefree and fun-loving. They’re admired and respected by
their teachers and peers. They’re not only friends, but a cohesive unit.
Together they face (and conquer) the multitude of obstacles life throws in
way. They’re beautiful both inside and out. They also have brains, and
are not afraid to use them.
views the cheerleaders as her ticket to liberation. Liberation from the
shackles of childhood naiveté as well as the confines enforced upon her
by a male-dominated society. Jeannie resents being labeled as a foolish
yearling that could not possibly understand the wicked ways of the world.
She longs to be acknowledged as a full-fledged, card-carrying woman.
cheerleaders hold a mid-season try-out, Jeannie, of course, jumps at the
opportunity. Though the competition proves stiff, Jeannie’s virtue wins
out in the end. The squad sees the exuberant upstart as a young soldier
ready to take her first step into the real world. They feel that it’s
their civic duty to escort Jeannie through her treacherous rite
first, is good for Jeannie and her newfound mentors. But Our Heroines are
soon put to the test when foul play weakens the Amorosa football team mere
hours before The Big Game; the school’s winning record, and perhaps the
cheerleaders’ very livelihood, on the line.
The Cheerleaders will not suit
the taste of all those who partake. The more casual – dare I say
shallow? – observer can only hope to scratch the surface of this
cinematic landmark. They will only see the shocking parade of images that
dances across their screen, and will not, in the slightest, be able to
interpret these symbols for what they truly are. For instance, in several
scenes, the cheerleaders are filmed from the shoulders down; their
heads, for the most part, completely severed by the frame.
ignoramus will see this as mere objectification of the female form.
Granted, these shots appear to focus on the midriff and breasts, but if
one looks a little closer they will realize that in-between
those breasts is the heart. This is the same heart that leads Our Heroines
to perseverance over their numerous adversaries – such as sleazy bikers,
ogling custodians, and perverted hot dog stand attendants. These shots
also predominantly display the Amborosa “A.” A simple enough
explanation, for most, but Nathaniel Hawthorne may beg to differ. Like
their literary counterpart, Hester Prynne, the women in The Cheerleaders are repressed by a society that does not understand
them. The “A” stands not only as a symbol, but also a shield; a proud
emblem of sisters doin’ it for themselves.
predominant theme from The
Cheerleaders is acceptance. Or more
specifically, acceptance in a male-dominated society. At several points
throughout the film, Jeannie confesses to her friends that she has never
“made it.” Now, it’s be easy to confuse “making it”
with fornication. When Jeannie complains of never having made it, however,
what she means is that she has yet to “make it” in the real world; to
carve her niche. Jeannie has always lived her life under the heavy thumb
of Mr. Davis, her father. Her acceptance on the cheerleading squad (much
to Mr. Davis’ dismay) opens the door to a vast world – both in the
figurative and literal sense – of opportunity. After Jeannie “makes
it” on the team, she immediately begins to look for new opportunities in
which to “make it” further.
Jeannie, we all want to make it. As a matter fact, many of us spend most
of our lives trying to make it. Again and again. When Jeannie and her
friends cheer: “Come on, boys! Come on, boys! Come!
Come! Come! Come! Come on, boys!”
intention is not to invite, but to issue a bold proclamation of autonomy.
It’s as if they’re saying: We, as women, know that the path to
independent womanhood is
arduous, but nevertheless, we are ready for it.
A film of
this magnitude has been a long time in the making; bold in idea, but at
the same time, ingeniously crafted. I struggled with closing thoughts that
would bring justice to The Cheerleaders. In the end, however, I find a haunting lyric from the
film’s theme song, “I Like What You’re Doing To Me,” rolling over and over
again in my mind:
your fingers quiet on my soul…”
The Cheerleaders has done just that. Its quiet fingers have
touched my soul.
irony, it turns out that this film is out-of-print; thus making The Cheerleaders hard to discover both spiritually and
logistically. But on both counts, I think you will find it well-worth your
effort. And if nothing else, there’s a lot of boobies.
-- Copyright © 2001 by J. Bannerman