Part 3: 2000-2011: The Ladyfest Years

Sooz, As If, Channel 4, 2001 – 2004

Sooz, a sarcastic sixth former (and talented artist) with multi coloured dreadlocks, interested in tattoos and piercings, was the definitive card carrying mosher girl a number of years before emo became a scene the Daily Mail could use to whip up yet another yoof moral panic. Her character stood out from the other characters in the series because of her image, but also because of her ongoing battles with mental illness. 

The series also featured Jemima Rooper, post Junk, but pre Sugar Rush and Lost in Austen.

Sooz was played by Emily Corrie, who gave the character an understated dignity. The only member of the cast to also feature in the U.S version of the series, Corrie found Hollywood dispiriting and in 2009 gave up her acting career to join the Royal Navy.

Enid Coleslaw, Ghost World, Directed by Terry Zwigoff, adapted from the comic book by Daniel Clowes.

Enid (Thora Birch) is post High School, and is trying to figure things out, including herself. She dyes her hair green in the film whilst listening to the Buzzcocks ‘What Do I Get?’ and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansen) walks in and is pissed off because they are meant to be viewing apartments, an assignment for which Rebecca has suggested they dress like ‘rich yuppies’ as that is who people want to rent to. Following a humiliating encounter with her nemesis, John, at the comic store, a seething Enid goes home, changes into a black dress, and shampoos the dye out, whilst listening to old blues records.

It was done slightly differently in the comic book, but the result was essentially the same.

Prey For Rock’N’Roll, Directed by Alex Steyermark, produced by Gina Gershon, based on the autobiographical rock musical by Cheri Lovedog (US), 2003

“All my life, all I ever wanted to be was a rock’n’roll star” says Jacki (Gina Gershon) at the start of the film. Having seen Ike and Tina Turner at the Hollywood Bowl when she was in 7th Grade she had a sudden realisation: “Suddenly the idea of becoming a teacher or a nurse lost its edge, sorry mom.”

 Later she discovered X, and punk, and the two things combined inspired her to get her first guitar, and her first band together. “That was 20 years ago,” she explains, “and today, God knows how many bands later, not much has changed: Not the gigs, not the clubs, not the money.”

Jacki is a tattooist by day, and her current band are called Clam Dandy, and have a sound that is reminiscent of L7, Lunachicks and 7 Year Bitch. The opening scenes of the film show the band performing to a packed and rapturous audience in a medium sized venue. People are screaming and jumping up and down, clearly into it, and someone is filming the evening. “Tonight we made $13’s and 50 cents each, I mean, enough to support my eyeliner habit.” Says Jacki.

The rest of the band are Faith (Lori Petty), a guitar teacher by day, Sally (Shelly Cole) on drums, who is described by Jacki as being the love child of Shirley Temple and Keith Moon, and Tracy (Drea de Matteo) on bass, a “trust fund baby” and a “tequila guzzling speed freak”.

Jacki is 40 in two days time, and is coming to a crisis point in her life: She is wondering if it’s all worth it all not. She has been trying to be a rock star for 20 years, and still hasn’t made it, should she give up? She weighs up the options: “Bitter rock chick with a band? Bitter rock chick without a band?”

Despite Jacki’s impending crisis, things are not going too badly for the band initially. Aside from the unreliable nature of their bassist, they’re a happy lot. Inevitably though, they don’t stay happy for long and a series of crises threaten to tear the band apart just as it seems they might get their big break.

I don’t want to give too much away because, unlike some of the films I’ve written about (where you could see the plot coming a mile off), there are a number of twists and turns in this film that I’d rather not warn you about in advance. Needless to say, it is not a happy ride, but it is a strangely fulfilling one.

The film is very powerful on a number of levels: It feels very real, thanks I would say to its source material (the film is based on the play of the same name by Cheri Lovedog) and to the determination of the cast and crew (including Gina Gershon, who produced it). It also features complex well drawn characters, including Jacki, Tracy, Sally and Sally’s brother Animal (an unrecognisable Marc Blucas), a great soundtrack, and a mix of humour, pathos, tragedy, and action. It does, on occasion, stray perilously near to melodrama, but I never felt as though it crossed the line.

Whilst avoiding trite cliché’s and Hollywood style happy endings, I did feel strangely fulfilled after watching this film. The triumphs are small, the tragedies are many, and yet it felt real and honest in its depictions.

Itty Bitty Titty Committee, Dir. Jamie Babbit, produced by the non profit organisation Power Up (US) 2007.

From the opening credits, to the closing credits, this film can be seen to be a love letter to Le Tigre, to the Lesbian Avengers, and to the Guerilla Girls.

The film opens with a montage of grrrls at gigs, grrrls doing graffiti, skateboarding… It then cuts to a non plussed Anna (Melonie Diaz) being fitted for her bridesmaids dress for her sisters wedding. The day only gets worse… It quickly transpires that Anna has recently been dumped by her girlfriend, has car trouble, and also has a shit job as a receptionist at a cosmetic surgery clinic. She also failed to get into the University of her Choice. Being pushed by a colleague to have a boob job is just the final insult really.

As she is going home, she sees Sadie (Nicole Vicius) spraying the clinic with graffiti. Nicole is a member of CiA (Clits in Action), a group of feminist activists who appear to be a combination of the Guerrilla Girls, Lesbian Avengers, and freelance riot grrrls or Ladyfesters. Having taken a picture on her phone of Anna holding the spray can as a form of insurance, the charming Sadie invites Anna to a meeting. Given the shit day Anna has had, it maybe isn’t that surprising that she goes.

Soon the quiet and meek Anna is surreptitiously reading fanzines at work, acting as lookout for the groups activities, and falling in love with the hard to resist Sadie (charm, as the viewer discovers, is just one tool in an extensive arsenal), and radically re-decorating her bedroom and the girls bathroom at work.

The other members of the group are Shulamith (Carly Pope) “a recovering lawyer”, Meat (Deak Evgenikoz) who is a hugely talented artist, and Aggie (Lauren Molica) a sweet and easygoing transgender “dude”.

As Anna becomes increasingly involved with CiA, she visibly blossoms but her presence causes tension within an already tense group. Things aren’t helped by Sadie’s habit of serially cheating on her longstanding girlfriend Courtney, or the mind games she has played on previous girls in the past (including Meat) and is now playing on Anna.

I won’t tell you too much about the plot, but I will say it’s a film about feminist activism with a  great soundtrack, including Le Tigre, Peaches, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsey, Team Dresch, and Slant 6, and a lot of energy. Is it a riot grrrl film? Well, sort of. It’s more a Ladyfest film than anything, and whilst I found some of the characters a bit tiresome (especially Sadie) it captures a raw spirit within a scene or community that is rarely captured on film at all.

Break My Fall, directed by Kanchi Wichmann (UK), 2011

Whilst this film is set amongst the trendy Hoxton set, and features at its core a couple of girl musicians (Eliza and Sally) who are in a punk band together, it isn’t really a punk film in terms of its subject. More it is a nails down a blackboard, unflinching, deeply claustrophobic close up of a couple’s relationship in freefall. It is to be endured, not necessarily enjoyed, although there is the odd funny moment. The soundtrack and camera effects felt very authentic, but as a whole it was so understated and slow that it was hard to see where it was really heading.

Alas, where it was heading is not something I can tell you because about halfway through the film we had to leave. I could go into why, but it doesn’t have anything to do with this piece and since I try to keep my two blog worlds interrelated but separate I am instead giving you the option of clicking here  if you’re interested in the why’s and the what.

If you’d like to read a proper review of the film, click here

Click here to read some thoughts and conclusions on this series.

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