Sunday, February 28, 2021

Doc Watch: The Go-Go's (2020)

Watched:  02/27/2021
Format:  Amazon Streaming
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2020's
Director:  Alison Ellwood

As a kid, I liked The Go-Go's as well as anyone who was, like, eight years old.  I thought they had catchy tunes and whatnot.  It was much, much later - probably in my late 20's that I was like "huh, actually, these are really, really solid pop songs."  And I gave them some reconsideration.   

Even back when I was a kid, I remember hearing "punk band" tied to The Go-Go's, and looked at Belinda Carlisle wearing pastels and with her hair up in a pony tail, and was like "what?"  But later started kind of putting the pieces together, but not really.

The Go-Go's (2020) documentary hit right around COVID and got a lot of festival play, but it's a tough year for something like that.  So, I was thrilled when it finally came to Amazon, because I would probably have just as likely paid for a ticket to see it in the theater.  

Unshockingly, it tracks the history of The Go-Go's from a bunch of post-high school kids kicking around LA in the punk scene to Jane Wiedlin picking up a guitar as part of the DIY "let's just do it" part of the punk movement.  What's maybe most surprising is, at least for the late 70's to the mid-80's portion of the doc, it's very "warts and all".  Former band members show their faces, as well as the manager who got them stardom.  Very candid conversations are had about recreational drug use/ abuse, and how and why the band became a #1 selling group - the very first all-female band to write and play their own songs to hit #1, in fact.  It's a story about a meteoric rise to fame and what happened when they got there.

Despite the very polished, MTV-ready look of The Go-Go's, they legit came out of the punk scene, and seeing those photos - and there are innumerable photos, which match exactly the recollections of the bandmantes to a crazy degree - is a reminder of what MTV kind of wound up doing to look and feel of a band.  And, of course, there's discussion of their decision to abandon the punk scene for a pop scene.

Some of the wounds discussed are still not healed as former bandmates talk about their discovery that they've been kicked out.  But between the core five members you think of from Beauty and the Beat, at this point they're both candid and have some perspective on what occurred and what their various sins may have been (I'd guess the average age of a Go-Go when this was filmed was 60ish?).  There's some elliptical storytelling as they try not to reopen wounds and rehash old fights, because they all seem much, much happier now and genuinely glad to be back together.

Director Allison Ellwood keeps the focus tight - the accomplishment of becoming the #1 band so fast and on their own merits.  And identifying the cracks that led to their eventual split.  It's no mean feat to have gotten all the interviews she did and the unvarnished truth, as near as I can tell.  It's a mix of amazing archival material and occasional inserts of animation or graphics paired with talking head interviews, from all of the band members past and present, to other musicians (see members of The Specials and Madness), to record label execs.  And, Stuart Copeland of The Police (and this is how I found out Copeland is not English here 2021).  

It's all really remarkable.

What is missing is:  so... what happened between 1992 and 2019 or so?  That's about 30 years of careers and time, and it's a LOT to jump over.  Because Kathy Valentine lives in Austin, I've kept up a bit with what she's up to, and she's had a rocky-ish relationship with The Go-Go's until the last ten years even as the band hit the road in nostalgia tours.  They barely glance off of Belinda Carlisle's not insignificant solo career.  It seems like tracking some of this would have made for a good forty minutes or so, but no one asked me, and the doc is already long enough, I guess.  We get maybe five or ten minutes of "yeah, some highlights, some lowlights, and we're all mostly sober", and if the doc exists to make an argument for the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame (and it feels like that's what it's there for), then I get it.  But people went on to marriages, divorces, have children, etc...  But there's probably a lot of fighting about money that doesn't make anyone look good, and this is a kumbaya sort of ending that doesn't need complications.

Anyway, well worth watching sometime.  If nothing else, The Go-Go's themselves are a goddamn delight.  

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