Radical Act, a documentary by Tex Clark, was filmed back in 1995 and is about the queer/feminist music scene in the USA at that time. The documentary is simple but endearing – Clark interviewed female musicians and music journalists about the impact of their sexual and gender identity on their work. And with the likes of Vicky Starr, Meg Hentges, Toshi Reagon, Kay Turner and Gretchen Phillips there are some wonderful one-liners in their responses to that question.
Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill/Le Tigre is the biggest name featured in Radical Act – you can tell it was the 1990’s because she says ‘totally’ a lot in this film. Hanna is terribly charismatic and has broad appeal – in my circles she captured both the attentions of my straight male partner (in her Bikini Kill days) and my queer female best friends (in her Le Tigre days). With Hanna involved you are pretty much guaranteed a fresh audience for this documentary, she continues to draw a huge following among young feminists, but mostly Radical Act will appeal to those of us old enough to see the film as a sweet souvenir from our past.
The Riot Grrl movement was a fascinating era – a bunch of radical women found themselves being increasingly embraced by the punk music scene until eventually their style became a hot commodity in the commercial music industry. Much of the documentary focuses on surviving that kind of popularity with integrity and radical politics intact. At one point Vicky Starr talks about the importance of preparing for life when the public doesn’t think feminism is so cute anymore, fifteen year later and that time has well and truly come. In fact, seeing all of that optimism for feminism I experienced a kind of sadness at times watching Radical Act.
Radical Act is being re-released (the film did some of the festival circuit back in 1996) by A Million Movies a Minute and is available for purchase or rental on-line (see their website for details). With the current nostalgia for the Riot Grrl movement the time is right for Radical Act, but it is also a timely reminder that in spite of Lady Gaga and the hijacking of ‘Girl Power’ as a marketing slogan, being openly queer and feminist as a musician outside of the indie music scene is still a relatively rare occurrence today. Also, that women can so play guitar.
DVD Extras include: Director commentary with Tex Clark.