Director Amy Oden‘s Kickstarter-financed documentary on women in punk, From the Back of the Room, is one of those films that you have to seek out. It’s currently screening in various theaters across the country, and can be purchased on DVD directly from its director.
Unfortunately, the idea of women playing music — much less playing aggressive music — is still seen as a novelty or marginal subgenre. Happily, Oden’s film presents women in punk not as an aberrent concept, but as an intergral part of the scene.
The film starts slowly, with many of the women discussing their personal stories, and how they came to the punk scene. They’re not necessarily speaking in terms of gender, but the perspective they offer is obviously something not often seen in music docs. There are more female stories of the early days of punk in the first 10 minutes of From the Back of the Room than in the entirety of American Hardcore.
“Yes, I’m a girl, dammit. Acknowledge it, respect it, and then don’t treat me any different.” – Chris Boarts-Larson, Slug & Lettuce ‘zine
The lack of narrative structure might turn off some viewers, but there’s something really freeing in moving from one musician or another to a radio host to a photographer to a writer. Without the need to hew to a particular story, the stories of all the women involved become equally valid. It’s loosely organized by topic — like feminism in “The F-Word,” for instance — but the film’s not running from a script.
Rather than trying to shoehorn certain things into a preconceived idea, it’s a free-wheeling story of bands that exist outside the usual historical purview of punk.
Granted, there is a Riot Grrl retrospective, but considering how many of these bands and musicians were influenced by the likes of Bikini Kill (Kathleen Hanna appears), it’s necessary in order to provide a historical element. It grounds the documentary, giving it a sense of a past, rather than ethereally existing in the present.
Oden was heavily involved in C.L.I.T.Fest (Combating Latent Inequality Together, a festival designed “undermine patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia in punk and DIY”), so many of the acts come from that particular segment of punk. However, as the opening credits state, this is just one person’s experience, and it’s told from that perspective.
Considering the wealth of interviews and live performances included in the film, this is a fantastic perspective on punk and DIY that might not otherwise have been told in the traditional narrative.
The live footage really varies in quality, but the importance of seeing strong female performances trumps the grainy or pixelated images on screen. Hit the movie’s website to book a screening or purchase the DVD.