Monday, August 6, 2018


The origins of bands are messy. One of the things that documentaries about British punk bands repeatedly demonstrate is that they form like algae clusters on a microscope slide gathering and fraying in a tiny soup that looks just like them. The Slits have in their family tree associations with Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Keith Levene, Budgie and well, everyone else who huddled around in that place at that time when the gigs were composed of whoever was playing and a crowd that looked just like them and ended up on stage however briefly themselves with the same lot out front. The Slits were the same except they were all female and shut everyone up by sounding just the same. It's when they developed and started recording (particularly the first two albums) that they were a band that sounded only like themselves.

This documentary, restless with film and video footage which flashes up in fragments between present day interviews with all original surviving members, fulfills all of the above. It's messy, knows it and knows it must be but it's also disciplined and, for all its constant motion, quite spare. When you've seen a few rock doccos you will know the last two words in the last sentence can only be a compliment.

The arc is described by the current day interviews which are not quite a long baton pass but come close and should. The players and their intimates tell the story and it forms as an emotional progression the way few rockumentaries really commit to (Right Here about the Go-Betweens is a marked exception). There is no real stardom to report beyond the recalled joy or admiration of those at the centre.

What am I trying to say? Well, maybe I should compare this to the significant films about the Sex Pistols or Joe Strummer. Most of those were done by Julien Temple whose record stands without need of further praise but they tend to give in to the frayed romanticism that the press both sympatico and hostile gave that band. The Slits generally got short shrift by comparison and it is telling that Tessa points out the ripped jeans she's wearing in one photo which were created by an unfan brandishing a blade while Ari Up was in the pants, who said: "Here's a slit for you." That's the difference. This is not a tale of infamy on the high seas of naughtiness, it's a report of violence. No cuteness, no laddish kudos, just hostility. That's the difference.

I loved The Slits when I heard Cut because I didn't get it. Like all music I eventually surrendered to after initially trying to reject it (like PiL, when younger, Revolution #9, Steve Reich, Adrian Sherwood, or early Swans) it both disturbed and intrigued me. That's what fascination is: can't look, can't look away. Emerging from the buzzsaw guitar three chord slogans the band made a scary and atmospheric album more by dub than Stooges with its own beats and language. All of that is here on screen. For that celebration and the final words of unaccredited band member exuberance I declare this to be an essential music documentary.

Screening notes: I winced at seeing that this session was on standby. I envisaged endless queues and a bad seat to one side of the front. Well, the line was already in by the time I got there (Regent crowd control take note) a little before screening time. I flashed my ticket with the app and strode through and found a pretty much prefect spot to one side of front row centre. Even the yapping folk behind me shut up as soon as the production badges showed up and there was no seat kicking. A near perfect screening which I almost dipped out from in despair. A lovely time had by all. Actually, that's true, such a united response. Can't get better than that, given the subject matter.

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