A Bunch of Fives: Girl Gang Movies

A BUNCH OF FIVES

GHOSTBUSTERS (Paul Feig, US 2016) This summer’s biggest blockbuster is a reboot of a comedy-horror buddy movie from 1984. Remade with the four main roles played by women, this was a movie that many hoped would fail. That it didn’t is due to the inspired casting of Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon as the supernatural sleuths. The addition of a black actress, the amazing Lesley Jones, had chauvinists frothing at the mouth with barely concealable reactionary anger.

This film is a riot, made memorable by the aforementioned female cast, souped up special effects, and a sleazy and believable villain in Neil Casey’s Rowan North. A new classic ‘girl gang’ movie then?

It surely is, and it takes it’s place on a fascinating list of excellent female buddy cinema.

1. THE DOLL SQUAD (Ted V Mikels, US 1973) Schlock king Mikels inspired Charlie’s Angels with this cheap cheapo story of five fantastic female agents, who tackle a mad and evil genius about to release bubonic plague on an unsuspecting world. It’s worth digging around for a copy of this insane romp, not least for a typically camp and over-the-top performance by Tura Satana.

2. FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (Russ Meyer, US 1965) Satana also turns up as one of a trio of over-excitable, underdressed, sports car driving, killer go-go dancers, in Russ Meyer’s most memorable film. Set in the southern Californian deserts, FP!K!K! is a sorry tale of bad behaviour, kidnap, extreme violence, and low morals. Yes, it’s THAT good.

3. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Lou Adler, US 1982) Rarely screened and therefore rarely seen, The Fabulous Stains’ exploration of girl-powered punk rock pre-dated riot grrrl by a decade, and delivers some punchy home truths on the state of the music business and power of the media machine. The Stains wage musical war on rivals The Looters, who, it’s worth noting, feature former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, Clash bassist Paul Simonon, and Ray Winston on vocals.

4. WE ARE THE BEST! (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden 2013) A sensitive and realistic portrayal of the trials of teenage girlhood, explored through the lens of three punk pubescents and their adventures with boys, bands and struggling parents. Friendships flourish and then flounder against a background of guitars and cheap alcohol.

5. MUSTANG (Deniz Gamze Erguven, Turkey/France/Germany 2015) Five orphaned sisters living in rural Turkey attempt to find freedom through rebellion in a conservative village. Swimming with male school friends, attending football matches, kissing older boys and driving cars, the sisters are progressively picked off for marriage. The film has a gloriously positive ending, and despite some brutal and depressing events, is a joyous and unusual example of teenage rebellion (and an important critique of Turkey under arch-conservative President Erdogan).

by SHEENA REVOLTA

This article first appeared in Narc Online

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No Bra: an interview with Susanne Oberbeck

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve been coming back to the music of No Bra again and again.

Formed in 2003, No Bra were created by German performance artist and spoken word performer Susanne Oberbeck and musician Fanny Paul Clinton.

No Bra is a challenging and intriguing concoction of minimalist electronica, in-your-face queer politics and frighteningly astute social observation. Seventies New York No Wave meets Eighties electronic Berlin and present-day East London, while musical references seem to include Suicide, TG, Peaches and the Raincoats.

Visually, Susanne Oberbeck is striking on stage. Performing topless, with long straight hair and hot pants, she’s unforgettable and truly inspirational.

I asked Susanne how she became No Bra.

Sheena: How did you first become involved in music and performance and what were your thoughts when you first decided to appear uncovered?

Susanne: I’ve played music since I was a kid but I always hated practicing and playing classical music, and as I discovered making your own music is actually much easier, so I think kids should be told that!

After being in a few other bands I started No Bra with my friend Fanny Paul Clinton, after we made a short porn film satire together in which we both performed. Later it became a solo project and I became known as “No Bra”.

Playing topless made me feel more confident, aggressive and on edge on stage and it was immediately clear that it worked so I stuck with it.


Some women, including the Raising the Skirt collective, argue that exposing their cunt releases liberating magic and creativity. Do you feel something similar is true of your breasts?

To me creativity involves going against what other people say, having the balls to create something new, and not be afraid to embarrass yourself.

Our culture objectifies and judges females (not just females!). As a female one’s actions and opinions are constantly being questioned. To be an artist you have to block all of this out, or tell people to fuck off but that’s exhausting.

Getting my tits out clarifies things from the start, that I don’t care about that stereotypical kind of judgement. I haven’t experienced this cunt related “magic” some people talk about – to me its more about overstepping the line from an expected female position to one that I can control myself. – without hiding or altering my body. Changing society not myself – at least in the image I’m presenting on stage.

Your live work is a kind of non-performance. You’re very still, intense and focussed on stage. Was this a conscious decision?

Of course. I tried moving and it felt fake so i didn’t do it. It makes it easier to hold people’s attention. Not saying this can’t change!


Your video work is very confrontational and challenging. Do you consider yourself as more of a musical or visual artist?

I don’t really see it as being that confrontational or challenging. I can see the video with the penises [Munchausen – see above] is challenging to some, but I see it more as a comedy. It was also about my fascination with body doubles and editing to create an illusion that a star has a really hot ass etc, so I wanted to try the same technique to make it look like I have a big dick.

I love making films and videos, but working with music and vocals and live performance is much easier and natural for me.

What’s a good place to start for newcomers to your work?

I would start with the song Munchausen most accessible and the first album, Dance and Walk.


Your work is very ‘urban’. It’s seems to be it’s very much about life lived in the modern city – Berlin, Paris, New York, London. What do you love and hate about modern city life?

I just think that so called weirdos, queer people, have always been drawn to the bigger cities because people are a little bit more tolerant, and it’s easier to find like-minded people.

So that’s what I love about it, but also the diversity of people and cultures, the speed etc.

You can find out more about No Bra on her excellent website, featuring videos, radio shows and interviews. No Bra will, with any luck, be performing in Gateshead later this year.

Photo by Rebecca Thomas

Review: Grayson Perry All Man

Last night I watched Grayson Perry’s new series, All Man, on Channel Four. The series explores masculinity from the perspective of an artist. Who is also a transvestite; the latter stressed throughout the hour-long first episode as if dressing as a pantomime dame makes him something of an expert on ‘blokes’.

I should say upfront that Perry’s not a chap I particularly like, his work less so, but he’s a very good TV presenter, and it’s admirable that he can often get ordinary people to open up. I like what he does on telly.

The first episode, set in our own North East, focuses on what Perry sees as traditional northern masculine values and roles. Coal mining, shipbuilding, and in their absence, as an outlet for machismo, cage fighting.

Scenes set in the MME (mixed martial art) gymnasia and changing rooms are truly affecting.  A fighter talks about his brother’s suicide, and all concerned seem well aware that they have, to some degree, constructed their masculinity, mainly as a shield against pain – emotional if not physical.

Equally affecting are Perry’s encounters with the mother and friends of a thirty-year-old, seemingly happy and carefree young man, who took his own life in 2003.

Suicide accounts for three times as many male deaths in England as it does female. Suicide is also the leading cause of death of men between 20 and 49.  Men from lower socio-economic backgrounds are also ten times more likely to end their own lives than those from wealthier regions.

Unfortunately, Perry does not explore the equally frightening statistics around domestic abuse in the North East (up 43% in the past two years).

The elephant in the room is male violence, not suicide. While men are most likely to suffer violence at either their own hands or those of other men, so unfortunately are women.

Violence against women costs the NHS an estimated £1.2 billion a year for physical injuries and £176 million for mental health support.

Still, I guess you can’t cover everything right? On the other hand you can’t talk about masculinity without talking about women: both men’s fear of women and of their own femininity. Perhaps that’s why the show focussed so heavily on recycling the myths of the dour and brutal Northern male.

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During the making of All Man, Perry and the crew dropped into the Tyneside Bar Cafe for dinner. I was DJing there that night with Lady Annabella. The night was a celebration of the life of Amy Winehouse, linked to the screening of Asif Kapadia’s Amy at the Tyneside Cinema. The Bar was alive with queers, trans sisters and brothers, tough blokes and hedonistic partying women, all giving it up in joy at the legacy of a tiny Jewish songstress from North London.

Perry wasn’t keen to chat that night (I know, I tried). Perhaps the cosmopolitan, open, female-friendly atmosphere didn’t fit the narrative that the first episode of All Man seemed so keen to push.

Lisa Lyon: the other Mapplethorpe muse

Everyone (or at least everyone with taste and a spirit of enquiry) knows who Robert Mapplethorpe is, and most of those people will know that he had three great muses – people who modelled for him time and again and helped shape his art.

Sam Wagstaff is one. Patti Smith is the one most people know. Mapplethorpe took the iconic black and white portrait that adorns the cover of her greatest gift to the world, the album Horses. That’s a photo that has resonance way beyond being merely packaging. Ask any teenage girl from the seventies who went on to write poetry, play in a band, or create a fanzine. Ask any boy for that matter.

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I discovered the Mapplethorpe muse who most fascinated me via a large format paperback book I found in a remaindered book stall in the early eighties.  She was an impressively sculpted bodybuilder called Lisa Lyon and the book was called, simply, Lady.

I bought it for a pound, took it home, loved it, imitated it, used it as masturbatory inspiration (hey, what can I say, I like powerful women!).

tumblr_n4j2qgySpn1r9e2vfo1_1280Lyon was, and is still regarded as one of the great female bodybuilders, one of the pioneers. She began her career in martial arts, through the Japanese art of kendo, and because it takes upper body strength, started weight training. Which, in turn, led to bodybuilding.

In 1979 she won the first international contest for female bodybuilders and went on to write the first book on the subject, Lisa Lyon’s Body Magic. She appeared in Playboy and according to Wikipedia could “dead-lift 225 pounds, bench-press 120 pounds, and squat 265 pounds; two and a half times her own weight.”

When photographers requested she do a shoot, she got it. Because she’d actually been an art student at UCLA, she understood both what made a photo work and what work it took to make a photo. She posed for Helmut Newton and for Marcus Leatherdale amongst others. Leatherdale was Robert Mapplethorpe’s office manager and an excellent photographer.

But Mapplethorpe’s photos of Lyon are something else. Like Tom of Finland, Mapplethorpe shot women like he shot men. His portraits of Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Sigourney Weaver and others are devoid of sensuality. They’re kind of blank, blunt, non-relfective. They’re like beautifully crafted passport photos.

But with Lisa Lyon, Mapplethorpe went somewhere else. He created a character in almost every photograph – as if we were channeling Cindy Sherman. There’s Lyon as athlete, dominatrix, bride, fashion icon, boxer, porn star.

“When I first saw her undraped it was hard to believe that this fine girl should have this form,” said Mapplethorpe.

“My relationship with Lisa is not just her body […] I’m just as interested in her head as I am in her body.” He dug and explored the light across her muscular frame, her veined arms, her chiselled jawbone and cheeks.

140911005For her part, Lyon seems to have disappeared from view. She’s still alive, as far as we know. In the meantime, seek out Lady, the book of portraits of Lyon taken by Mapplethorpe.

She’s a strong and inspiring woman, and for me, as important a figure in the NY art scene of the early eighties as Laurie Anderson or indeed Patti Smith herself. She’s just been forgotten.

My books of 2015 … the rest

#2 Not that kind of girl by Lena Dunham
LenaDunhamI shouldn’t like this book, but I do, just as I love Dunham’s TV series Girls, and her movie Tiny Furniture. What’s that all about?

I’ll be open about one thing. I do find Lena Dunham particularly hot. Is that wrong? She’s funny, intelligent, politically liberal (and engaged), interestingly dressed, frequently naked.

Of course I fancy her!

But I also loved the book because it was recommended to me by real-life girlfriends who had found it inspiring and said it reflected their own lives. As much of Dunham’s work, it’s about that period between leaving school and starting your adult life. And the friends, and the shit ushering jobs, and the attempts to write something meaningful. Going to your friends’ piss poor drama performances, or derivative art exhibitions. Their bad bands. Their poorly attended club nights.

I laughed out loud a lot when I read Not That Kind of Girl. Because I recognised my own life and that of my friends at that stage of our development. And that, more than anything, is why I love Lena.

Check out her blog, Lenny, by the way. It’s an excellent daily reader.

 

#3 Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture by Carol Queen
CarolQueenA delightful treatise on queer life, and a book that offers another way of living, one that is about self-definition, personal autonomy and pleasure.

Carol Queen managed to put into words something I’d been struggling with my whole life – why, if my culture is queer, my politics are queer, my friends are queer and my art is queer, I am defined by who I’m sleeping with at any given moment?

 

#4 King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
Essays on rape, gender, sexuality, and punk rock by the writer of Baise-Moi.

Despentes seemed to take these issues back from the realm of theory, and positioned them anew against the backdrop of her own experience.

She’s one of the freshest writers I’ve read for years, and her anger shines brightly and offers hope, not least because she embraces the act of sex and the practice of sexual choice. She doesn’t hold it at arms length.

 

#5 Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band by Andrew MathesonThe_Hollywood_Brats_5
Even though I’d adopted the lifestyle of punk towards the end of 1976, I’d never heard of the Hollywood Brats.

That’s hardly surprising as their ‘career’ had come to an end by 1975. They were possibly Britain’s first punk band, our own New York Dolls.

Matheson’s book is a riotous carry-on, instantly recognisable to anyone who’s been in a crap band. It’s about bedsits and cider and fag butts. It’s about falling out with a succession of bass-players and managers, and about all the times you nearly have ‘made it’; but for your own ignorance, pride, pig-headedness and stupidity.

Mathewson is the punk Withnail, and it could make a fabulous movie. As long as they don’t cast Noel Fielding, Russell Brand or Bill Nighy, it could even be a great movie.

 

#6 Wreckers of CivilisTGation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle by Simon Ford
Leant to me by artist Juli Watson (who has become something of a partner in crime this year), Wreckers of Civilisation was an excellent introduction to the story of Throbbing Gristle.

With a very few exceptions I still prefer reading about TG than listening to their music (this is an exception).

But TG were as revolutionary as the Sex Pistols, Crass or the Ramones. In both art and music, their impact has been enormous. Many people have had their lives opened to incredible possibility by Cosey, Chris, Sleazy and Genesis. I’m one of them.

 

#7 Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson
FC St. Pauli are the adopted German football club of punks, anarchists, hippies and larrikins, supported across the globe by those who feel excluded or morally corrupted by the ManYoos and Real Madrids.

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I used to make a living writing about sport. There are times when I still do. I’ve written extensively about the politics and culture of football, rugby league, Aussie rules and wrestling. This book as a reminder of why I loved sport in the first place, and what was missing from so much of the sport we have access to via television, print and radio media.

St.Pauli are run by their fans, and make collective decisions. They’re based in the inner suburbs of their city, Hamburg, and fans still stand up at matches.  To understand why that’s important you probably have to be a football fan. But to understand why football is important, you just need to pick up a newspaper.

 

#8 Low Budget Hell Making Underground Movies with John Waters by Robert G. Maier
robert maierI’m a huge fan of the work of John Waters. I saw a double-bill of Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living at the old Scala Cinema off Tottenham Court Road in the late seventies, and it was as much a turning point as hearing United by Throbbing Gristle or the first Swell Maps records. I thought – I could do that!

Maier was an insider on all of the early Waters’ films, mostly as Waters’ production manager.

He sheds a harsh light on Waters’ single-mindedness, selfishness and meanness in making his movies. And while Waters also comes across as self-obsessed myth maker, often at the expense of his friends, he also comes across as kind and thoughtful, generous with his gifts, a man who likes to surround himself with those he trusts the most, supporting them in their endeavours and personal trials.

 

#9 Carsick by John Waters
ct-watersfrontis1-jpg-20140529On the other hand there’s this.

Probably the most disappointing read of the year. While it had it’s moments (most of these being the factual interludes where Waters enjoys the company of ordinary drivers who pick him up as he hitch-hikes across the American continent), at least a third of the book, perhaps more, is given over to Waters’ sexual fantasies.

These, perhaps inevitably, are about being picked up and tortured by truckers. I love a good sexual fantasy, particularly when they’re being shared by famous people I admire (I LOVED Madonna’s SEX!), but John W’s wet dreams are tiresome and repetitive.

He’s always fun, but this time I was laughing less than usual. Got a signed copy though, courtesy of my gorgeous friend Elspeth.

 

#10 Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
AudreLordeIn early summer I asked my friends for a list of great books by women.

The amazing Ami Nisa suggested this book and was then kind enough to lend it to me.

It’s the story of a young black woman growing up in Harlem NYC and her growing awareness of race, sexuality and intelligence. It’s about her writing and her education, and it’s powerful stuff.

She was a contemporary of the Beats, but her story is the flipside of that macho, homo-erotic, misogynistic culture. While the Beats deified ‘negro’ culture (and jazz in particular), Lorde was living with the reality of actually being black in pre-civil rights America. Being working-class, female and lesbian added suffocating layers to her daily struggle, but Lorde is an inspiring figure, tackles life with gusto and triumphs as a writer and as a person.

One of the great autobiographies.

My book of 2015

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#1: COMING OUT LIKE A PORN STAR: ESSAYS ON PORNOGRAPHY, PROTECTION AND PRIVACY (Ed. Jiz Lee)

I’m proud to call Jiz Lee a friend, and although they’re ‘only’ a Facebook friend, they’ve been a Facebook friend for some years. If you haven’t seen Jiz’ work, treat yourself. Jiz (see photo above) is an extraordinary adult performer who just smashes everything you thought you knew about porn.

This book (which was published by an excellent new publisher called ThreeMedia shares intimate personal ‘coming out’ stories from porn performers of many genders, races and ethnicities. Coming out to family, friends, partners, lovers, and community, the writers open up about far more than their personal relationships.

But what this book was really about for ME was ownership and autonomy.

Who owns our bodies, who has a say in how it’s used, defined or displayed? It goes beyond fucking and sucking. It’s political.

These amazingly open writers talk, sometimes unconsciously, about the way powerful coercive forces – government; churches, temples and mosques; the local community; big business – have literally taken ownership of our body rights, where reclaiming them has become a revolutionary act. Which is why the act of ‘coming out’ is dangerous, and why this book is so important.

I’d say it changed my life. 2015 was a year in which I decided more than ever that it was important to define myself, and to own and live that self. And this book inspired that in ways I’m still becoming aware of.

PS: it also serves as a primer to a list of simply amazing queer performers. 2016 will be SO much more interesting as I work my way through that list x thanks Jiz.

PPS: you can order the book here. Do NOT use Amazon!

Cut!

Next year is the 65th anniversary of the introduction of the X certificate in British cinema.

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In 1951 the X certificate replaced an earlier H certificate (H for Horrific) and was a reaction to the increasing number of film releases (many from Europe) which featured nudity, sexual activity, or bad language.

In 1971, the age at which you could attend an X certificate movie was raised from 16 to 18 years, and the X was replaced in turn by the 18 certificate in 1982. It’s pretty much where things stand until now.

To celebrate the introduction of the X Cert back in 1951, I’ll be working with a group of sex-positive pornographers, feminist thinkers, queer activists and film makers to explore what censorship has meant to us over that period.

We’ll be exploring issues that relate to freedom of both what we say and what we watch. How we use our bodies, and how our bodies are used by others. How our bodies are depicted on screen for public consumption, and how governments, big business and organised religion and politics decide what we can and can’t do, show and say.

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We’re starting in January with a screening and discussion of the work of Swedish feminist porn director, screenwriter and producer Erika Lust (see photo above), and will continue throughout the year; talking to film makers, actors and directors, lawyers, politicians and activists.

And we’ll be watching a lot of interesting work, exchanging ideas, and … probably … arguing and debating.

If you’d like to be involved in any way, please get in touch. You can email me at minkjaguar@gmx.com

It’s Sheena Eve!

Why I should start writing on Christmas Eve, I have no idea. I guess because it’s my first afternoon off for some weeks.

Check back soon. I think this will be a place I can write about and talk about the things I find interesting and the things that take up my time. Punk rock, film, pornography, feminism, roller derby and the world of queerdom.