Sunday night, Oscilloscope Laboratories and Ace hotel hosted a free screening of Who Took the Bomp: Le Tigre on Tour. The aforementioned Manhattan cool kids/hip tourists spot lived up to it’s reputation to this first time visitor (though showing free movies on Sunday is a pretty great way to cozy up to me). It was my second time seeing the film, and if you didn’t see Le Tigre live, like me, this is certainly the next best thing. However, the risk of making such a statement is that it could downplay that the film, directed by Kerthy Fix, is also an insightful, funny, and well-made documentary that stands on its own as a great example of non-fiction story telling (so luckily I included that qualifier!).
Of course, loving Le Tigre’s music or feminism doesn’t hurt, but even if you don’t know about the band or feminism, there’s a good chance you are going to come away with a love of, an appreciation for, and at the least, knowledge of both (half the battle, right?), thanks in large part to the fact that the women of Le Tigre, Kathleen Hanna, Joanna Fateman, and JD Samson are charming, funny and endearing people on which to base a film. And while I want to say that the trio make excellent spokespeople for feminism, I really can’t because no one person can speak for the movement, or even three people who make rad beats, but they can certainly give a glimpse into what it means to be a feminist and a feminist artists, and that’s something that is often not shown. Not only is feminism often treated like a four letter word, frankly, it’s just as often misunderstood (and the two, of course, go hand in hand). Also, when most movies don’t pass The Bechdel test, it’s BEYOND refreshing to see a film featuring more than two women, who do indeed talk to each other, and not about men, unless of course the men to which they refer are touring with them and expressing a strong desire to do battle with a shark.
I don’t want to now list a series of conditions for being a feminist artist, but if you watch Who Took the Bomp, you’ll see that a large part of it is about compassion, gay rights, fighting misogyny: from the song FYR: “Can we trade title nine for an end to hate crime? RU-486 if we suck your fucking dick? One step forward, five steps back. One cool record in the year of rock-rap. Yeah we got all the power getting stabbed in the shower and we got equal rights on ladies night.”
Their music is thoughtful and fun, and they’re totally hilarious people (ever get the feeling people think feminists can’t be funny because I sure do). Of course it’s not all fun and games (of which there are a lot), and Hanna was quick to point out that a lot of what the band faced, such as promoters threatening them, is not on film. But what is captured, as many a critic have noted, is Jane magazine refusing to use the word lesbian in ad for Le Tigre, and the band being forced to choose whether or not to advertise with them, a publication which used to introduce concepts of feminism to many readers. When Samson says It hurts her feelings, it’s hard to not feel a sense that every heart in screening room hurts too. You’ll also see radio presenters not take the band seriously, which has nothing to do with the fact that the trio can be downright goofy (which does not negate serious discourse btw), and more to do with the fact that people always wanted to compartmentalize Hanna’s work into her friendship with male musicians, or they only want to talk about what the member’s look like. You’ll see the women supporting each other and how much their fans love them, and that community was a large part of Le Tigre’s reason d’être, as recent interviews have explained.
And again, to come back to the filmmaking aspect, it’s an incredible use of archival footage, and the film has a great pace, weaving live concert recordings, interviews, and scenes of the band hanging out (they could seriously have a sketch comedy show). It’s a fun film to watch, and you don’t have to check your intelligence at the door in doing so. But there’s another reason I saw it twice and will buy it and re-watch it.
Being a feminist, especially a feminist artist, can get kind of lonely, and like every other artist out there, I sometimes doubt myself. I often get asked, “Do you have to try and make feminist films as opposed to just, you know, films?” I take it personally in part because I am a very sensitive person (and it’s not a nice thing to ask someone), but also because, while I don’t doubt my feminist beliefs, I’ll doubt my effectiveness at crafting feminist art, and I’ll wonder if whoever is doing the asking is right (they’re not). But when the doubt creeps in, it’s can cripple my creativity. And listening to song like FYR or dancing wildly around my apartment to Deceptacon, not only reminds me that there’s a need for this dialogue and feminist voices, but just that there are other feminist voices out there. From what I understand, since I wasn’t cognizant of the riot grrrl movement as it happened, a component was letting other women out there see other women make punk music, music about sexism and violence against women because just knowing other women are doing something like that can be priceless. Seeing Who Took The Bomp, like listening to Le Tigre’s music (or Sleater-Kiney, or MEN’s), for me, is probably a lot like reading a Bikini Kill zine when they were being mailed across the county. It reminds me that other women are out there, feeling just as fed up as me, and they’re totally being badass, role models and not being on the cover of Rolling Stone with their tits dressed up as candy for the umpteenth time. They’re also teaching me that being compassionate and vulnerable is about as punk as it gets. It reminds me that the word feminist doesn’t in any way compromise a work’s artistic value, and while that statement may seem obvious to make around other feminists, it’s not obvious to a lot of people and wasn’t always to me because I didn’t even know feminist art existed.
I didn’t have any feminist role models for a long time because while feminism and rabble rousing were always really innate to me, I was never exposed to any. I was in The Vagina Monologues in college, and we never even used the word feminist. However, when I started listening to Le Tigre, like discovering that there is a tradition of women filmmakers in the avant-garde that is often completely ignored in film history class, I found all these feminists, who I learn from, who inspire me, and who, most importantly are pretty much the only reason I can keep on making my art (livin’).
PS. The film is now out on DVD! Buy. Watch. Watch Again.