The VHS box cover art
Girls Bite Back (aka Women in Rock, 1980) is an ahead of its time document acknowledging female rock musicians. Directed by Wolfgang Büld (who also directed Punk in London, British Rock and Lovesick) the movie opens with a photo slideshow of many pioneer musical greats including Bessie Smith, Debbie Harry, Joan Baez, Cher, Dolly Parton, Grace Slick, Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt, Cass Elliott, Wendy O Williams and many others while Nina Hagen performs. After this we see a segment of interviews by some of the featured performers (Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Slits, Girlschool, Lilliput, Zaza and Mania D.) and I’m amazed at how relevant their answers still are today. The women are asked what it’s like being female musicians, their overall answer is that they’re just musicians. Being female is not the important thing about what they’re doing. A young Viv Albertine is quoted saying, “We are fucking women making music—that’s all there is to say about it.” Unfortunately even with that badass mentality, 36 years later there is still a need for Viv Albertine to deface a punk exhibit for not acknowledging these important women and their impact on music.
The most relatable thing about the women in this movie (at least for me) is a segment where they discuss their desire to be recognized as musicians and how they don’t want to be categorized as feminists or anti-male. It’s become a strange world where feminism is sometimes taken too far, as if it means hating men and wanting to be the superior gender, when really it’s all about equality. Girls Bite Back really captures this idea.
An indifferent Siouxsie Sioux is interviewed saying that if it was four years earlier she wouldn’t be playing in a band. She says, “It’s too easy. It’s the thing to do if you’re bored. It used to be more of a risk.” Siouxsie actually seems quite depressed in this footage. That’s probably the saddest thing about the film, as she seems entirely over her music career almost as it was beginning. However, she builds up more enthusiasm by their third live song “Jigsaw Feeling.”
Hard rockers Girlschool
Wolfgang Büld did a great job of picking out the bands featured in the film, I mean really his band choices were on point. It’s an awesome range of bands with rare footage of live shows and intimate interviews. There is something nicely raw about it as well, no captions to tell you who each band is, no subtitles when Mania D. is interviewed (they speak German). These imperfections, while a bit frustrating because you want to know what they are saying, make the film feel low budget in a labor of love, intimate kind of way. If you’re a die-hard Nina Hagen fan, you will be disappointed. She’s only in the very beginning and end, no interviews. However, the concert footage of her is pretty rad.
Girls Bite Back is a film female musicians should see. It’s poignant, witty and a great little rockumentary. If nothing else, it’s worth it alone to watch see the live performances by Girlschool and The Slits’ interview segments—they’re so fucking cool.