A short while back, I confessed that I could only recall ever having watched one documentary feature, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. My fellow movie bloggers duly chastised me and suggested I remedy the situation. Being a relative novice to the genre of documentaries, and still mostly looking to be entertained rather than merely informed, I naturally gravitated to a documentary with a similar subject, Wolfgang Büld’s Women in Rock. Of course, as it falls short of feature length, I suppose I still have only seen one documentary feature, but I hope I still get credit for trying.
Women in Rock was produced in 1980, and is a companion piece to a pair of documentaries that Büld produced regarding the punk scene in England. This film, however, is set in Büld’s native West Germany, though most of the performers are British. The film opens and finishes with performances by German Nina Hagen, and features performances and brief interviews with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Girlschool, Mania D., and the Slits.
As a documentary, Women in Rock has a few notable flaws. The first is that it doesn’t do much in the way of documenting. One of the nice things about The Decline of Western Civilization is that even when interviewing somebody as instantly recognizable as Ozzy Osbourne, there was still a handy label on screen just in case you were that one guy who somehow didn’t know who this particular rambling rocker was. With the comparative obscurity of the punk rock genre — especially at the time the film was made, and considering not all of these acts are even considered major examples of the genre — this would be of significant help in Women in Rock, but no identifications are ever given. I was able to recognize Siouxsie and the Banshees and Girlschool, but the others I was left to figure out from context and outside descriptions.
The other weakness is that the film doesn’t really have anything to say in and of itself, and the stars seem to delight in poking fun at the entire concept. Just a few minutes into the film, Siouxsie Sioux mercilessly derides the very idea of focusing on “women in rock” as being pointless in the post-punk era; her feeling, which is shared by the other bands, is that there is little difference in the music and that highlighting the sex of the performers is just an artificial division.
Male or female, there’s always at least one guitarist who seems to be trying to make love to their instrument.
This is not to say the film is without merit, however. Although the interview segments mostly consist of the bands making smart-aleck remarks about the validity of the documentary’s subject, they don’t form the bulk of the film. Most of it is more of a concert film, albeit with each band in different venues. There’s ample opportunity to hear each band in action, as the songs are mostly played in full during the film, and most acts get at least two songs during the film. I enjoyed the performances by Girlschool and Siouxsie and the Banshees the most; granted, I was already a little familiar with each of these acts. Nina Hagen’s music is something that I didn’t warm up to right away but could see myself adjusting to given time, although some of it was definitely being wild for the sake of being wild, even to the detriment of the music — rather akin to the Sex Pistols in that regard. I had a pretty strong dislike of Mania D, however; they seemed to be more on the order of post-modern performance art than musicians.
Women in Rock isn’t a great documentary, but it’s still worth a look for people who enjoy the early punk scene or who enjoy female hard rock acts. As a film, it may not be much, but the music carries it.