About a month ago, Jay Leno sat in for Roger Ebert as a guest reviewer on Ebert & Roeper. I perked up because I had to wonder whether Leno was warming up a new chair in anticipation of passing The Tonight Show desk onto Conan O’Brien in 2009.
Speculations on Leno’s career not withstanding, I keyed in on the movie under review, Shadowboxer. I never saw this movie for the same reason I was curious about it: Cuba Gooding, Jr., as a hitman. To paraphrase and perhaps oversimplify Leno’s defense, he maintained he would rather see an interesting experiment than a safe movie. Richard Roeper was decidedly less kind and gave it a thumbs-down.
That got me thinking about all the movies I saw both voluntarily and involuntarily and they ran the gamut. Tracy Flannigan’s film Rise Above, about the on- and off-stage exploits of the “dyke-punk” band Tribe 8, which I began viewing as an “interesting experiment,” turned into much more.
This is a movie for rock music fans, and I am one; I listen and play, and I have an interest in knowing the history, trivia and events that shaped my favorite music. How did a band come together? Where does the band’s identity begin and the individual members’ identities end? How do they live, write and function as a band? Unfortunately, this is something I typically didn’t get from VH1’s Behind the Music.
What you get in this documentary is sense that the band members have come full-circle. They have perspective on their destructive pasts and try to move forward. Their candor about the past and their struggles to make positive life choices rings true and do not sound like well-rehearsed public service. It’s very moving when you realize they are assessing themselves honestly in the interest of getting on with their lives rather than engaging in phony mea culpa and mutual admiration to advance the next album or tour.
Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary effectively mixes music and politics in an interesting and entertaining way. The band also shows how ridiculous the hyper-sexualized rock persona and stage antics really are. Let me put it this way; there is no reason for any musician, regardless of gender, to be shirtless on stage.
Flannigan’s work has a distinguishing wealth of bravery and style. The film’s tone is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, with its angst-laden musings on life. The music is what draws you in and the likeable people are what keep you in. This is raw high-energy punk rock and Tribe 8 is as capable as the Ramones, the Sex Pistols or any of the other godparents or godchildren of punk. However, in true punk fashion, they have eschewed the commercialization of their art form. If you dig the Indy spirit, you will enjoy this film and the music. It allows the filmgoer to come as close to the live concert experience as a DVD will.
The energy and heart of the film, its subjects, their music and the hopes of the members of Tribe 8 causes it to transcend its punk-rock niche and mere portraiture and jump off the film as fully realized people living their lives. The band members address everything from childhood, the punk rock movement, drugs, work and gender to sexuality, politics and relationships. The overall experience is about more than sexual orientation, it’s about artistic vision, finding community and finding love.
“The Meaning of Life is to experience the rapture of being alive,” says lead singer Lynne Breedlove. According to her, the moral of this story is to find your simple joy in life, find out what it is you truly love in life, and that’s what will lead you back to yourself. You might make a bunch of money, you might not, but who cares, ‘cause you’ll be so fuckin’ happy.”
Far be it from me to argue.