Part 2: 1990 – 1999: The Grunge and Riot Grrrl Years

Pump Up The Volume, written and directed by Allan Moyle (US), 1990.

Following the rather unhappy experience he’d had on Times Square, Allan Moyle spent a chunk of the 80s writing a novel, which was never published, but which would become the basis for Pump Up The Volume.

My sister and I discovered this film in 1992, two years after its initial cinema release. We were 13 and 15 respectively, and given that we approached high school with much the same attitude and antagonism as Mark Hunter (Christian Slater), this was the perfect film for us… until we saw Heathers that is.

“I was walking the hallowed halls today, and I asked myself, is there life after high school? Cos I can’t face tomorrow, let alone a whole year of this shit.”

Slater plays Mark, a quiet, shy, well behaved high school student by day, and a scathing, revolutionary pirate radio DJ by night. So bleak is his world view that his shows theme tune is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’.

“I hate that. Now I’m depressed, now I feel like killing myself, but luckily I’m too depressed to bother”

Under his nom de plume of Happy Harry Hard On, Mark has gained a cult following amongst his fellow students at Hubert Humphrey High in Paradise Hills, Arizona, but none of them know who he is, and the only person keen to find out (initially) is the arty outsider Nora DeNiro, played by Samantha Mathis, whose wardrobe I coveted for years. Playing Mark at his own game, she sends him poetic notes on red paper, which are sexy enough to keep him wanting more, but scary enough for him to be somewhat unnerved. Whilst waging her low key campaign, Nora makes notes on his broadcasts, pinning down every tiny personal detail he has divulged until she can form a complete picture in her mind.

Nora’s friend: So who is this guy?

Nora: Nobody knows, but he really hates this school, so I guess he goes here

Nora’s friend: But all the guys who go here are geeks

Nora: Maybe not my dear…

Having confronted Mark, she makes it clear to him that she is not a crazed stalker, and that she wants to help him in his campaign against the schools corrupt principal, who is hounding low achieving students out of the school to massage the SATS statistics, and is also (we discover later) keeping the expelled students names on the rolls in order to keep the money. As his fame, and events surrounding it, spiral further and further out of control, Mark becomes increasingly nervous and horrified by what he has started. He almost gives up, but it is Nora who persuades him to carry on, and who ultimately assists him, on equal terms, in concluding his mission.

“Is this all a game to you? You know, you can’t just shout ‘Fire!’ in a theatre and then walk out, you have a responsibility to the people who believe in you!”

Whilst Nora is a firmly grounded, independent, tough character from the start, the films other key female role, Paige Woodward (Cheryl Pollak) appears to be the girl who has everything: Her family are rich, she is bright, popular, has nice clothes, lots of dates… But it soon becomes clear that something is not right because the ambitious programme for educational achievement appears to be being driven by her domineering dad, and it’s clear that she is not happy. Like Nora, she listens to Harry’s show every night, and whereas Nora doesn’t need liberating, or necessarily inspiring, it’s clear that Paige is looking for something, and that she finds it via Harry’s show.

In some ways, Paige is akin to Moyle’s earlier heroine, Pamela Pearl, and is perhaps a vision of what Pamela might have become had she not run away with Nicky: A very scared, passive sixteen year old girl, on the verge of exploding with hidden rage. Teenage Chinese-Canadian writer Evelyn Lau experienced the pressure of being forced to keep achieving higher and higher grades, and her own explosion lead her, a few years after Times Square appeared, to run away, with a much less happy outcome than for that of Pamela Pearl. Paige’s explosion is much more literal, as you will see in this clip.

Having cleansed herself of her past, she embarks on a new career as a teenage malcontent, disrupting an emergency PTA meeting to defend Harry, and scaring news hounds on the way out. Her fate from there on is uncertain, but we see her dancing on car roof tops with a ghetto blaster in the films final scenes, so she was probably safe.

(Paige at the PTA meeting) “My God, why don’t you people listen? He’s trying to tell you there’s something wrong with this school. Half the people here are on probation of some kind, and we’re all really scared to be who we really are: I am not perfect, I have just been going through the motions of being perfect, and inside, I am SCREAMING…” (Walks off in frustration, saying in exasperated tones, “Why won’t you LISTEN”)

Pump Up The Volume is a more fully realised film than Times Square, but it has similar themes: Maverick radio DJ’s, the power of radio, adoring fans attracted by a word of mouth phenomenon, youthful rebellion and adult incomprehension… What makes this film a grunge film is its themes of teenage depression, suicide, and angst, also its soundtrack, which includes tracks by the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Soundgarden amongst others.

Moyle would mine similar themes a few years later with Empire Records, and even more than with Pump Up The Volume, would strike gold commercially.

 Singles, written and directed by Cameron Crowe (US), 1992

Set in and filmed in Seattle, from what I know of it/have been able to find out about it, this is essentially a romantic comedy with a grunge backdrop. It doesn’t appear to be up on YouTube in parts, and I couldn’t be bothered buying it, so I can’t formerly confirm this however. I did ask my friend Sara, who likes it, what was so good about it, and she said “Matt Dillon”, anything else? I asked. She looked at me as though I was either very slow on the uptake, or existing on another plane of sanity, then she said “Matt Dillon!” I gave up at that point. The film was ready to be released by early 1991, but wasn’t actually released until Sept ’92 as, prior to grunge going mainstream; studio bosses didn’t have a clue as to how to market it.

 Tank Girl, Dir. Rachel Talalay, adapted from the comic by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin.

In a dystopian future, Tank Girl roams the increasingly waterless earth, as a sort of punk rock action heroine who does a lot of shitkicking and gets tortured by Malcolm McDowell.

Inspired by the comic strips by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, which later became a book; this film marks the point where the already established punk girl icon got the Hollywood treatment. In an interview in Select at the time, I remember it being reported that Hollywood wanted Winona Ryder riding a white horse, whereas Hewlett and Martin wanted Jane Horrocks on an armour plated armadillo (or some such). The resulting film can therefore be seen as a compromise between the two extremes…

This isn’t to say that Tank Girl isn’t a punk rock icon (one of my sixth form pals once went to a fancy dress party as Tank Girl, her boyfriend went as Vyvyan from The Young Ones) but this is hardly her finest moment. Try this site instead…

My So-Called Life, created by Winnie Holzman, produced by Edward Zwick and Marshall Heskovitz (US), 1994

Although it only ran for one series, My So-Called Life not only gained a loyal fanbase at the time, but continues to have a loyal fanbase now. The ratings were not that great at the time, but it has done well on DVD and has since been cited by Joss Wheden as a key piece of inspiration for Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

The series was set in Liberty High, and revolved around the trials and tribulations of a series of teenagers and their wider friends and families. The main characters were Angela Chase (Claire Danes), Rayanne Graff (A.J Langer), Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa), Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall), and Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto).

The strengths of My So-Called Life were many. The shows characters, however minor, were fully realised, developed, and complex, making them believable. This was important because the show developed storylines that ran over many episodes, and returned to a number of themes throughout the series that had an impact of many different characters. For example, Rayanne’s problems with alcohol and drugs not only involved Angela and Rickie, they also drew in Amber, Rayanne’s mother, and Patty, Angela’s mother. Similarly, the abuse Rickie suffers at the hands of his uncle, and the consequences of that, drew in not only Angela, Rayanne, and Angela’s parents, they also involved the new English teacher and Jordan Catalano.

The show didn’t deal in trite endings or easy solutions, and whilst it did deal in angst, and had a grunge soundtrack a lot of the time, it never became a cliché. It always felt true and real because you genuinely cared about the characters and about what happened to them.

Roseanne, ‘The Getaway, Almost’ (Season 8) (US), circa 1995/6.

I laughed so much I cried… The riot grrrl hitchhiker is played by Jenna Elfman, and the use of Bikini Kill’s ‘Don’t Need You’ in the show helped pay for a 1996 Bikini Kill UK tour. I have no idea how Roseanne Barr found out about riot grrrl, or why it was decided to reference it in the show, but ooh, it cheered me up when I finally saw it…

All Over Me, written and directed by Alex and Sylvia Sichel (US), 1997

An absolute masterpiece from the way the titles perfectly fit the rhythms of Babes In Toyland’s ‘Hello’, to the poignant conclusion.

Claud (Alison Folland) and Ellen (Tara Subkoff) are two 15 year old girls growing up in New York’s Hells Kitchen. They both play guitar, and are trying to get a band together. This ambition is thwarted by Ellen’s growing romance with Mark, a drug dealing thug, and the fact that Claud is falling in love with Ellen.

Alex and Sylvia Sichel, the director and writer, deliberately chose bright colours for the film, the idea being to reflect the over-bright colours and vivid nature of adolescence. This reflects the films themes of coming of age and burgeoning sexuality.

Whilst Ellen experiments with drugs and sex, Claud, with the help of her new neighbour Luke, stumbles across a riot grrrl club and Lucy (a pink haired Leisha Hailey). Events set the two girls in opposition, and Claud is forced to choose between her loyalty to Ellen and her loyalty to Luke and their friend Jesse, also her tentative romance with Lucy.

I won’t say anymore, but needless to say, this is a beautifully observed film which features painfully accurate and honest performances from Folland and Subkoff, plus a nice turn from Wilson Cruz, fresh from ‘My So-Called Life’, as Jesse. Musically, there’s songs from Patti Smith (‘Pissing in a river’, which also features in Times Square), Helium (‘Hole in the ground’), Sleater-Kinney (‘I wanna be your Joey Ramone’) and Hailey’s band the Murmas. Hailey’s on-screen band also features Jennifer Smith, and it’s interesting to compare the scene where Claud watches Lucy’s band to that in the Fabulous Stains!, with Corinne watching Billy’s band. In each case, both find inspiration and romance in what they see that night.

Slaves To The Underground, Dir. Kristine Peterson, written by Bill Cody, 1997

This film opens with a young woman called Shelley singing in a recording studio to a backing track. Afterwards she walks into a women’s bathroom, where a list of male names have been written on the wall under the legend ‘Dead men don’t rape’, and she adds another name to the list, then leaves.

The film then cuts to Shelley playing guitar with her band onstage. Part way through the set the singer, Suzy (also Shelley’s girlfriend), jumps off the stage and beats the crap out of a guy in the audience. His friend, Jimmy, is baffled and somewhat shocked by this. He approaches Shelley, his ex girlfriend incidentally, after the show and says, somewhat awkwardly “So… your friend just beat up my friend?!” A whispered conversation follows, which the audience is not privy to, and it’s only later when Jimmy is discussing the evening with another of his friends that we discover that Shelley has told Jimmy that the guy who he was with at the gig raped her. Jimmy’s friend doesn’t believe her, but Jimmy does. The tension between who is telling the truth and who is not isn’t resolved until right at the end of the film, and the accusation hangs heavy over the characters throughout.

Whilst clearly referencing riot grrrl, the film suffers from an odd structure (it feels like a series of set pieces rather than a coherent narrative), poor characterisation (its hard to feel anything for anyone involved as we never really get to know them or understand what makes them tick) and a nasty habit of beating the audience over the head with any political points it wants to make.

That said there’s the odd good moment, mainly the climactic scene in which an A&R man, who has come to watch the band with the intention of signing them, instead becomes a shocked witness to the band falling apart on stage and an ensuing riot. I suppose the essential problem is that this is a film that takes itself far too seriously, and as such it and its characters completely lack a sense of humour. If you’ve read Sara Marcus’ excellent book, Girls to the Front, about riot grrrl in the U.S, you’ll know that there were some pretty humourless mean spirited moments. That Slaves… chooses to represent some of those moments isn’t the problem, the problem is that it ONLY represents those moments, making for pretty dispiriting viewing. Avoid.

Daria, MTV, created by Glenn Richler and Susie Lewis (US), 1997-2002

The charm of Daria always lay in the shows blacker than black humour. Jane and Daria as the disillusioned and cynical adolescents at the heart of the series could always be relied upon to deliver a run of classic quick fire exchanges of dialogue, and the show always had a keenly developed eye for the absurd.  The shows thrashy, sardonic theme tune was by the band Suspiria, who featured former members of the band Zu Zu’s Petals, and was entitled ‘You’re Standing On My Neck’. Suspiria also contributed a new theme song for the feature length episode ‘Is It Fall Yet?’, entitled ‘Turn The Sun Down’, a very amusing pastiche of the Beach Boys.

My favourite episode would be ‘Arts ‘N’Crass’, in which Jane and Daria are strong-armed into entering a poster competition themed around ‘Student life at the dawn of the new millennium’. Whilst their classmates go for personal fantasy (Upchuck, of course…) and clumsy attempts at moral messages (Britney) the duo enter a poster of a beautiful girl gazing into a mirror, with the caption: “She knows she’s a winner, she couldn’t be thinner, now she goes in the bathroom and vomits up dinner.” When the powers that be take the poster and alter the slogan to something more “Upbeat” (Jane: I see, she’s not gonna throw up anymore… but I might. Daria: Don’t do that, it’s ‘downbeat’) the duo, with the assistance of Jane’s slacker brother, Trent, are forced to take matters into their own hands…

The show also features an episode that satirises the University dream, in which Daria makes a lucrative but short lived career from writing essays for lazy students, until her mother finds out and puts a stop to it. (Daria: She said it was wrong to encourage liars and to profit from them. Jane: So, she’s giving up being a lawyer? Daria: I asked her that, I’m sure one day we will once again be on speaking terms) There was also a spoof on Lollapalooza (or Alternapalooza as it was known for the episode) in which the journey to the festival becomes the story, with none of the characters actually making it.

Daria started life as a spin off from Beavis and Butthead (apparently after Beavis and Butthead had appeared, done their shtick, and walked off, two sullen looking schoolgirls would appear and make some exquisitely deadpan comments) and whilst MTV always seemed very comfortable with the success of B&B, the success of Daria seemed to take them by surprise, and it seemed for many years as though they didn’t know what to do with the show. It was a very long time before the series received a proper DVD release, and even now, barely a year after it was released, it’s nay on impossible to get hold of. One place the shows heroine does live on however is in the Chicks song ‘Daria’.

 Girl, Dir. Jonathan Kahn, written by Blake Nelson (novel) and David E. Tolchinksy (screenplay) (US), 1998.

Reflecting its origins as a serial in Sassy, and then a novel, this film opens with a retrospective voiceover by its heroine, Andrea Marr (Dominique Swain) along the theme of the groupie. She grew up being fascinated by groupies, in a wealthy suburb in a town where “everyone had a band”. What she couldn’t decide was what fascinated her most: those who drew the groupies to them, or those who drew rock stars to them, and what she never predicted was that she, a bright, unworldly geeky 18 year old, set on a course for an Ivy League University, would become a groupie herself.

The story starts in high school, where Andrea and her equally unworldly friend Darcy (Selma Blair) are engaged in a disastrous campaign to lose their virginity, a moment encapsulated in all its horror by the moment when a drunken Andrea wakes up on the floor of some anonymous dorm to find the boy Darcy has spent all night pursuing, sitting on top of her, jerking off. Darcy, alas, is profoundly unsympathetic.

Feeling restless, Andrea embarks on a well meaning quest to experience real life edginess, in the course of which she meets Todd Sparrow (Sean Patrick Flanery), lead singer in The Colour Green. Todd appears to be a synthesis of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, with a dash of every boy band pin up of the previous thirty years: For Andrea, it is lust at first sight, and we witness her completely losing her mind, which is funny for about five minutes, then progressively annoying. What is really annoying though is that Andrea only really gets into the local grunge scene because of Todd, and her desire to, well, stalk him for want of a better word. What’s good though is that no one around her, from Darcy (who is quickly and ruthlessly discarded), and Andrea’s new friends Cybil (a stroppy free spirited, bass playing, aspiring rock goddess played by Tara Reid) and Rebecca (a quiet, laconic grunge queen with an encyclopaedic knowledge of musical genres, played by Summer Phoenix) is at all fooled.

Through Cybil, and especially Rebecca, Andrea ditches her academic good girl image, and dives headlong into grunge, getting a new wardrobe and developing a new vernacular along the way (which seems to consist of the ability to say ‘Bitchin!’, ‘It’s the shits!’, and ‘I am SO down with that’ with a straight face.) Meanwhile, Cybil starts a band with two geeky school friends of Andrea, and whilst she is perfecting her bass playing, songwriting, and sound (sort of Hole meets Babes in Toyland initially), Andrea is catching the eye of aspiring music journalist Kevin (Channon Roe), and they initially bond with each other whilst being shoved to the floor and being trampled by The Colour Green fans. She quickly loses her virginity to him, even though it’s obvious that he is far more into her than she is into him.

Whilst I find Andrea a rather annoying character, I do like Cybil and Rebecca, especially Rebecca. What’s good about this film is that, throughout, every girl Andrea knows says to her, in one form or another, what Todd’s sister Carla (Portia de Rossi) tells her:

“You’re too good for him [Todd] he doesn’t deserve a girl like you.”

It all goes unheeded however and, yes, Andrea has sex with Todd. Confused about the difference between Kevin and Todd as partners, Andrea turns in desperation to the school psychologist, resulting in one of the few genuinely funny scenes in the film.

“The school psychologist was a temporary arrangement after the old one got fired after the recent suicides.”

“Oh my God!” blurts Rebecca, “You got fucked!” and a conversation ensues as to the fundamental difference between merely having sex with someone, and being fucked. The distinction is driven home in much less positive terms by an embittered Kevin, in the following exchange with Andrea:

Andrea: Todd and I have been seeing each other

Kevin: Todd doesn’t see girls; he fucks ‘em!

Meanwhile Cybil, who has been offered a record deal, disappears, and an angsty Andrea returns to Kevin but finds his incessant music journo ranting very tiresome. I can’t help but think that Kevin would have been better off with Rebecca, but he was probably too scared of her, given that she knew at least as much about music as he did. Mind you, he wasn’t a total arse: He did ask Andrea about music, it wasn’t his fault she wasn’t very interested. Still, it does remind me of the ‘I married a music journalist’ cartoon in Girlfrenzy, where he tells the Nick Cave anecdote one time too many and his spouse shoves a copy of MM and NME into some very uncomfortable orifices.

When Cybil returns, she tells Andrea she is dropping out of high school and that she has got herself a record deal ‘on her terms’. As it turns out, ‘her terms’ comprise of the label only wanting her, not the boys in the band, not letting her play bass anymore, and pairing her with some session musicians.

“Your terms, huh?” says Andrea

“Look,” snaps Cybil, “I didn’t get everything I wanted, but I made a choice, and I am NOT going to apologise for that”

“Yeah, right” sneers Andrea, “Cybil never apologises, makes it a lot easier that way, huh Cybil?”

Inevitably, the ultimate romantic fairytale that the readers of Sassy presumably demanded happens: Andrea has a summer of gigs, festivals, and Todd, and she gets worshipped in her new role as rock star girlfriend. Cybil, meanwhile, transmutes from a Kat Bjelland/Courtney Love figure into Shirley Manson.

The big romance doesn’t last of course, and Todd buggers off on tour and won’t take Andrea with him. When he returns, all apologies, she is over him and ready to head off to University, leaving him behind.

The book of Girl was published in 1994, the same year that Kurt Cobain died, and whilst the serial would have preceded that particular event, it does seem as though Edwards, at the bequest of his readers, is giving them their own personal, cleaned up, cuddlier version of Kurt Cobain in a romanticised fairytale. The story is more than that… the characters of Carla, Rebecca and Cybil make it more than that; just not much more than that. This is My So-Called Life meets Jenny Fabian’s Groupie pretty much.

Gemma Brogan, Junk, BBC2, adapted from the novel by Melvin Burgess (UK), 1999.

The novel Junk, by Melvin Burgess, won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Carnegie medal when it was first published. The book was well received but, given it is a teenage novel; it was seen as being rather controversial because it depicted a community of heroin addicts. These two things put together lead to the novel being dubbed ‘Trainspotting for kids’. As with Irvine Welsh’s novel, Junk was first adapted for theatre, later for film, and the similarities don’t end there: Like Trainspotting the novel had a multi-first person narrative structure, and as with Trainspotting there are questions to be asked about how faithful and true to the spirit and content of the book the film adaption actually was.

In the case of Junk, it was adapted by BBC2, initially in three parts, as part of a series of programmes for schools. It was later shown as a film on BBC2 in an evening slot. Because it was filmed for schools initially, much of the morally ambiguous stuff was fudged or taken out, including the moral justification of shoplifting, the skip raiding, the consumption of hash brownies and spliff, the naked rope swing activities, and the gluing of locks on banks by self proclaimed anarchists. The squatting was also less romanticised, the sex less obvious, and the punk and post punk elements considerably downplayed. Interestingly, the debate about the morals of prostitution remained intact more or less.

Gemma was played by the then almost unknown Jemima Rooper, who was fresh from playing George in a remake of The Famous Five, and who made a perfect stroppy but bright teenager just discovering herself.

I intend to do a separate piece on Junk the novel, but to set the scene for you as regards Gemma’s punk moment in the film… It’s the early-mid ‘80’s, and 14 year old Gemma Brogan, newly run away from home in a sleepy seaside village to the bright lights of Bristol, uses the money she has stolen from her parents to go punk. This part of the story is dealt with in more detail in the novel, but in the film it mainly consists of the cosmetic, and of no one being too impressed. She does develop and maintain the look throughout the film, but her motivations aren’t really explored on screen as they are on the page.

Katarina Stratford, 10 Things I Hate About You, Dir. Gil Junger, screenplay by Karen McCullach Lutz and Kirsten Smith (US), 1999

Very, very loosely based on Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’, (to the same extent that Clueless could be said to be based on Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’), and 1 of 3 modern takes on Shakespeare to feature Julia Stiles (she was also in the modern basketball take on Othello that was O, and played Ophelia in Hamlet), 10 Things I Hate About You is fast paced, vivid, and so sharp it cuts itself several times.

Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the new boy at school (which is slightly odder than the usual U.S high school, it would seem), and on his first day he sets eyes upon, and immediately falls in love with, Bianca Stratford (Larisa Oleynik). There is a problem however in that Bianca is not allowed to date. This is thanks to the Stratford patriarch, who appears not unkind, but due to the fact that he, in his own words, is kept “up to my elbows in placenta all day long.” He encounters a lot of pregnant teenage girls in his day to day work, and is deeply paranoid about one or more of his daughters also getting pregnant. When Bianca rants and raves about how unfair it is that she is not allowed to date, he makes a new, diabolically inspired, rule: Bianca can date if Kat (Julia Stiles), her feminist theory reading, grrrl guitar band listening, surly older sister dates.

“I found a picture of Jared Leto in her drawer once, so I’m pretty sure she’s not harbouring same sex tendencies”

A plan is hatched by the increasingly smitten Cameron to win Bianca by finding a date for Kat, and he and his friend (and guide) Mike (David Crumholtz) hit on the idea of “extreme dating”. This fails as a concept however when the various guys they have gathered all refuse to date Kat. Given Kat once kicked a guy in the balls so hard he had to have an operation afterwards (he was sexually harassing her in the lunchtime queue), this is perhaps unsurprising. Undefeated, Cameron decides to approach Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger), a guy rumoured to have spent the past year in San Quentin, who regularly bunks classes, whose best friend has a Mohican and doesn’t wear a shirt, and who lights cigarettes from Bunsen burners and drills holes in textbooks. He and Kat have something in common in that they are both regulars with the guidance counsellor, Ms Perky (Allison Janney), who is writing an erotic novel in-between seeing surly teenagers. When Patrick won’t take the challenge either, Mike hits on the idea of finding a financial backer, namely the vain jock Joey (Andrew Keegan), who resembles a young John Travolta, and who is also after Bianca (for far less honourable reasons than Cameron), and the essential plot is set in motion.

The relationship between Bianca and Kat can be seen to be on a similar plane to that of Daria and Quinn in Daria, Bianca being the perky, popular one, Kat being the surly unpopular one. Kat is quite a complex character though, in that it transpires that she used to be popular but “got sick of it or something” according to Bianca. That she knows how to play the social game transpires when she, Patrick, Cameron and Bianca go to a party together and Kat, knowing she is going to have a rotten time, gets plastered and ends up table dancing a’la Coyote Ugly before hitting her head on a light fitting and being carried off by a concerned Patrick. “This is so patronising” she protests as he helps her stagger over to the swings outside, “Leave it to you to use big words when you’re smashed” he grumbles, shortly before she throws up.

An earlier scene, in which he turns up at Kat’s favourite club, Club Skunk (could this possibly be a reference to Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains! I wonder?), to watch a supposed grrrl band (actually Letters To Cleo, a band of blokes with a female singer, who resemble No Doubt to a certain extent) tends to be the most dissected scene, in that it seems to be a clumsy effort to cast Kat (who is, after all, a feminist into guitar music played by women) as a riot grrrl. This didn’t entirely come off it was felt by my circle of friends: It had a lot to do with the band chosen to represent Kat’s music (see above), but is also had something to do with aesthetics: the club was quite well lit and looked quite clean. It even looked like somewhere where you could use the toilets and the locks wouldn’t be broken, the lights might work, and the floor wouldn’t be swimming with God only knows what. Similarly, the floor to the actual club looked like it had never been doused in beer and vomit in its life, and the dancing was far too tame. That said, the following exchange has been much remarked on:

Patrick: You know, this band are no Raincoats or Bikini Kill, but they’re not bad.

Kat: You’ve HEARD of The Raincoats?!

Patrick: Yeah, haven’t you?

Whether he’d really heard of The Raincoats, or it was merely info cribbed for him by an investigative Bianca and Cameron is never made clear, but given the context, it was still one of those ‘did I really hear what I thought I just heard?’ moments.

Naturally, Kat is highly embarrassed after the party, and is very annoyed with Patrick.

When he turns up in the local feminist bookshop, claiming he has ‘misplaced his copy of The Feminine Mystique’, Kat is still annoyed.

“Someone still has her panties in a twist”

“Don’t think you had any effect on my panties”

When Cameron and Mike point out that the only way he will ever get her back onside is to make a fool of himself in return, he bribes the school security to let him hijack the school PA system, and uses it to serenade Kat on the hockey pitch with a rendition of Andy Williams’ ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, complete with the school brass band.

“Thee shit hath hitteth thee fan, ith”

At the school prom, the whole scheme comes out, leading to Kat ranting at Patrick whilst he tries to tell her he didn’t care about the money, he cares about her, and Joey hitting Mike and Cameron because Cameron is dating Bianca, not him. This in turn leads to Bianca decking Joey, “That’s for making my date bleed!” she then hits him again, in the eye, “That’s for my sister!” and then knees him in the balls, “And that’s for me!”

When the dust has settled, Patrick uses the money he extracted from Joey to buy Kat the guitar she’s wanted for months. “I thought you could use it when you started your band.” He tells her, “besides, I had some spare cash; some asshole paid me to take out this really great girl.” This is a marked progression in his character, given that he starts the film calling her ‘girlie’, refers to all women as ‘chicks’, and upon observing the second young man pursuing Bianca, comments ‘What is it with this chick, has she got beer flavoured nipples?’

That said one suggestion I have heard is that the whole film would be much improved by being run backwards, meaning Kat would go from being in love with Patrick to being a sullen angry grrrl, driving along in her car listening to Joan Jett.

I have mixed feelings about the film, as I do about ‘The Taming Of The Shrew’, but it is very funny on a number of levels, is not the standard high school Hollywood teen movie, and the characters are, by and large, not two dimensional. It’s interesting to watch Kat trying to balance personal integrity with personal happiness, it’s just a shame they didn’t make more of an effort with the music and the atmospherics in Kat’s world.

The film inspired a sitcom for ABC in 2009 which appeared to re-hash the film plot, but with a different cast.

To read part 3, click here


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