Thursday, June 23, 2011

FRAMELINE35 2011—Jackson Scarlett Reviews the Punk Docs

The intersection of queer and punk is both broad and well-traveled and so it stands to reason that there are quite a few films representing same at this year's Frameline. I previewed a few of the more punk and punk-leaning docs appearing in the festival this year and a few selections stood above the rest.

The first of these, Miwa: A Japanese Icon, is certainly less "punk" per se but nonetheless guided by a spirit of resistance and irreverence that is punk's hallmark. The French-made doc candidly (and a bit cheekily) presents Akihiro Miwa (Miwa to his fans) as a sort of elder statesman of Japanese queerdom. In contrast to his frequent, often catty Japanese daytime TV persona, Miwa appears charming, subdued, and composed, recalling his life and successes from one of the ornate thrones that apparently populate his home. Japan during pre-modern periods held no stigma against homosexuality, according to Miwa and the film's historians; prevailing attitudes were introduced after the war when European interests began to hold sway in a Japan striving for modernization. Recognized nationally as the nation's only "out" homosexual in post-war Japan for some time, Miwa became a focal point for the country's gay community in exile.

Though the doc pays ample attention to fetching glossies of the actor and musician as a young man and duly covers the circumstances of his childhood, the film's focus lies with the evolution of the Japanese cinematic landscape throughout which Miwa's career is woven, beginning with his role in the rise of exploitation master Kinji Fukasaku, who directed an iconic turn in Black Lizard at Miwa's request. Edogawa Rampo's novel
Black Lizard was adapted for the screen by Japanese literary royalty Yukio Mishima, whose unfaltering—and unrequited—admiration jumpstarted Miwa's career. Miwa also made appearances in the radical protest films of Shūji Terayama during the 1970s, a spate of voice acting done for anime legend Hayao Miyazaki, and—in a somewhat less concrete moment—an affiliation with Takeshi Kitano from both his saloon days and the present. Miwa's ability to remain active in Japan's filmic culture for all these years coupled with his unwavering acceptance by modern Japanese as an icon of glamour and femininity can only lead one to wonder what the American landscape would look like if intolerance to homosexuality was a footnote in our culture, instead of a hallmark.

Hit So Hard is one of the better docs of the mid-90s grunge scene, framed by out lesbian Patty Schemel, long-suffering drummer of Hole and friend of Kurt Cobain. This kinetic doc captures the fever-dream rush of the band's massive success and the chaos following the death of Cobain, featuring the requisite footage of Courtney Love's unhinged personality and genuinely charming home videos that reveal better times. Despite her inevitable fall from favor around the release of the band's third album and the struggle with addiction that fills out the second half of the doc, Schemel appears older and wiser here, but no worse for wear. Those with an interest in the machinations of major-label music industry will find a good deal to chew on here.

Those who find
Hit So Hard a little too soft and cuddly will find the ante upped significantly in Lilly Scourtis Ayers' Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love and Death Of A Punk Goddess, which—although not exploitative—can't help but rough us up a little as it presents the life of Marian Anderson, front singer for Insaints and Thrill Killers, whose on-stage antics led to a trial for obscenity and off-stage antics eventually led to her death by heroin overdose in 2001. Though much of her life was spent elsewhere, Marian's life is inextricably wrapped in Bay Area lore—she grew up a troubled teen in Modesto, later moving to the city where she lived in squats, occasionally working as a dominatrix at Fantasy Makers (still a standby in the Berkeley S&M scene), and running through a series of local legends, including Tim Yohannan, founder of Berkeley posi-punk cornerstone 924 Gilman Street and punk mag Maximum RocknRoll, which published both the Insaints albums and J.D.s' notorious queercore provocation "Don't Be Gay", before settling into a tumultuous long term relationship with Danielle Bernal, a self-described "butch dyke" and one of Last Fast Ride's central personalities.

Alongside lengthy interviews with Marian, Danielle and family,
Last Fast Ride features interviews with punk luminaries ranging from Tim Armstrong of Rancid to SF scene stalwarts and boasts an even compassionate narration by punk touchstone and longtime LGBT advocate Henry Rollins. Even if none of these names sound familiar, the price of admission covers a great amount of titillating performance footage, nudity and all, though nothing on the order of the live excrement-and-blood bacchanals of GG Allin, who Marian acknowledges was an influence. To it's credit, Ayers avoids exploiting its very exploitable subject. Last Fast Ride is too even-handed in its presentation of Marian's lifestyle to pose as a cautionary tale. Instead, it's an engrossing look at a woman on and over the edge and the base desperation that pervaded the SF punk scene in the mid 90s.

Although it wasn't available for preview, a compendium of this year's more "punk" offerings would be incomplete without mention of Shut Up Little Man: An Audio Misadventure, the subject of which has inspired (and been sampled by) artists as far ranging as John Zorn, Nirvana and comic author Daniel Clowes. The classic taped rantings of an alcoholic odd couple have been touted by a variety of sources as visible as
Spin and as underground as your older sister's 'zine, since their appearance nearly 20 years ago, and only now are finally receiving the documentary treatment.

Cross-published on Twitch.

1 comment:

Dan Magers said...

This is an awesome round up of docs! Need to see all these now...