Gina Birch Helen Reddington/ UK/ 2018/ 45 mins
@Cameo, Edinburgh as Part of Doc’n Roll Festival
To say that the cultural impact that punk had was seismic is surely an understatement. That initial mayfly lifespan from the mid-to-late 70s has powered movements in practically every branch of the arts since; a rejection of the mainstream and the adoption of a defiantly DIY aesthetic.
As with all movements and subcultures that achieve any lasting legacy, punk has had its own mythology and gatekeepers, and with a few notable exceptions (Siouxsie Sioux and the late, great Polly Styrene for example) they were overwhelmingly male. Gina Birch of The Raincoats, and Helen Reddington (aka Helen McCookerybook) of The Chefs have sought to redress this imbalance with Stories from the She Punks, a suitably brief, DIY gallop through the tales of some of the more marginal figures of the scene.
The film is presented entirely through talking head interviews, back by archive photos. The interviewees include the likes of Viv Albertine and Palmolive of The Slits, Ana da Silva of The Raincoats, Gaye Black of The Adverts, and Hester Smith and Rachel Bor of Dolly Mixture. Many have similar stories: Winter of Discontent poverty, young and rebellious spirits, and an instant love of this exciting new music that wasn’t content to watch from the sidelines. Colourful tales abound of the scene’s casual misogyny, political tensions and an approach favouring enthusiasm over musicianship. Smith and Bor are a particular delight, contradicting each other over their recollections of events and chronology, the stories of their past clashing deliciously with their current appearances which give no hint of their punky past.
Many of the stories are of a similar arc, and available resources limited the filmmakers to an interview-based structure where performance footage would have been very welcome. These flaws make the brevity of Stories from the She Punks something of an asset; a short, sharp sprint through the fascinating underbelly of a subculture that shook the World. The film ends with the exhilarating saxophone skirl of X-Ray Spex‘s ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ leaving the desire to delve further into the subject above and beyond this fascinating document.