I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, most of which will be 90 minutes or less. It’s a goal increasingly unlikely to be met, but I persevere.
Title: The Go-Go’s
Release Date: January 24, 2020
Director: Alison Ellwood
Production Company: Fine Point Films | PolyGram Entertainment
This is a bog standard rock documentary with lots of archival footage intercut with talking head interviews with the subjects in the present day. That said, the archival footage is pretty good, the interviews feature candid thoughts, and this is the story of The Go-Go’s, an amazing band that I nevertheless didn’t know much about before. The Go-Go’s rose out of the late 70s Los Angeles punk scene to hit it big in the early 80s as groundbreakers in New Wave music and women in rock in general.
The band hit it big right at the point in my childhood when I was at the age that I started paying attention to popular music so I feel lucky that I never knew a time when a woman’s rock band didn’t exist. The Go-Go’s were the first all-woman rock band where they wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and hit Number One on the Billboard album charts (an accomplishment that they still hold alone). You will be reminded of this fact numerous times while watching this documentary. But as great as this accomplishment it is, the weight of being a Go-Go was heavy on all the band’s members as they were forced into an endless cycle of touring and promotion.
The band’s problems are not an unusual story in rock and roll. Drummer Gina Schock and bassist Kathy Valentine seemed to be hurt most in the process as they resented that the songwriters – guitarist Charlotte Caffey and rhythm guitarist Jane Wiedlin – made a lot more money from publishing rights, or that lead vocalist Belinda Carlisle got a lot more popular attention. Original members of the Go-Go’s Margot Olavarria and Elissa Bello are also interviewed about the unfortunate manner in which they were dismissed for more talented musicians. Substance abuse is also a problem. It took the arrival of Paula Jean Brown in 1985 as a substitute for Wiedlin for someone to recognize that Caffey had a serious heroin addiction.
Much like the Pixies, the members of the band are just not able to communicate with another which allows problems to exacerbate. Even in the present day interviews it is clear that they haven’t worked out their problem even though the band has reunited several times. The documentary says very little about anything after The Go-Go’s initial breakup in 1985 (and doesn’t even mention that they recorded an album in 2001). Its a bummer that such a great band ended up having such a short initial run. Imagine if they had been still been together as elder stateswomen for the alternative music boom in the 1990s? Nevertheless, The Go-Go’s were a great band for the time they had and this documentary makes me appreciate them all the more.