THE STORY OF THE SLITS – a new documentary by director William E Badgely
Interview by Lizzie Soden
There is a new crowd-funding campaign launching on Indie Go Go through September 2015
This is to help fund the completion of this new documentary about the SLITS – Featuring Ari Up, Viv Albertine, Tessa Pollitt, and Palmolive along with interviews with performers, peers, and proteges of the group such as Kate Korus (original Slit), Don Letts (DJ/Filmmaker), Budgie (Slits/Siouxsie & The Banshees), Vivienne Goldman (NYU’s Punk Professor), Paul Cook (Sex Pistols), Bruce Smith (The Pop Group/Slits/PiL), Gina Birch (Raincoats), Dennis Bovell (Producer of ‘CUT’), Adrian Sherwood (Producer). Reformed Slits members Hollie Cook, Michelle Hill, Anna Schulte, Dr No, and Adele Wilson.
When I first read that there was a new documentary being made about the The Slits, I was so excited. I am such a fan-girl. The Slits were the world’s first all girl punk band who formed in London in 1976. I was in awe. I can’t remember when I first heard the song “Typical Girls.” I had just started a Fine Art course in Coventry, UK, having moved from part of the punk scene in London, and the album Cut was bought into our student house. I woke up one morning to it playing on repeat. Those girls were part of our tribe, and happily pushing the boundaries of gender and genre in music.
The band were contemporaries of The Clash & The Sex Pistols. The film began as the vision of Slits lead vocalist Ari Up who wanted to see the struggle and passion of herself and the beautifully strong women around her brought to the masses. After Ari’s passing, Jennifer Shagawat enlisted the help of her longtime friend William Badgley to help her finish the film. Now they are nearly done! The film tells the story of the band and the lives of the women involved, from the band’s inception in 1976 to the bands end in 2010 at the death of lead vocalist Ari Up. William E Badgely (Bill), who is directing the documentary is part of Molasses Manifesto, a film production company that started out making records in 1998. Now they mostly make feature length music documentaries and the occasional music video. Their first film, “Kill All Redneck Pricks: A Documentary Film about a Band Called KARP” was released in October 2011. It was screened over 70 times in 10 countries, was translated into 3 languages, and received a review of “Excellent” in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Not to mention “3 out of 4 stars” in the Seattle Times.
Bill and I chatted about the Slits, how it was back in the day, how the documentary is going, and the money the film-makers need to complete the project via their new Crowd-Funding campaign through Indie Go Go. This is CULTURE ON THE OFFENSIVE.
Lizzie Soden: So would you like to tell me about where you are so far?
William E Badgely (Bill) : Right now we are about 95% filmed: there is one more interview we would like to do with someone we just keep missing. We have a geat deal set up for the archival (with Don Letts) and also their manager during the “Return” era. We have really beautiful film stock and great deals for the music as well. We have 50 non consecutive minutes edited right now and a lot of those scenes have been scored. The full script and full outline have been sorted for quite some time. We need to raise money to cover the licensing for all the archival footage and music. We haven’t given up on mid-December being the time for the screening Premieres, but we’ll see. Just pushing through, trying to go forward. We are in a really good place to do that because of everything we have set up and the work that’s been done already. Our intention is to tour the film like a band. Rather than do whats normal for a film, which is to release it everywhere on the same day, we have thrown away that model. We release everywhere on a different day like a band would do. Molasses Manifesto uses an indie rock model in the exhibition of our films. We want to make an event in each place as much as possible. For my last film, we showed over 70 times in 3 countries, and I was there at very nearly all the screenings.
L.S: Oh brilliant. That’s a really good way of doing it.
Bill: Yeah with bands and speakers and all that sort of stuff.
L.S: Well hopefully, if you are doing an English tour we can help you out.
Bill: Oh that’d be great
L.S: I am so excited! I cant even tell you how excited I am. Loads of my friends of all ages are too.
Bill: Its good to hear that after all this work. It’s nice to hear that people actually want to see it.
L.S: I can remember when I I first heard the Slits, then saw them thought, ‘Oh my God I’m not alone.’ Typical Girls totally resonated with me. At that time everyone looked like Princess Diana and wore high heels. We were supposed to all become hairdressers or air hostesses. That was my careers advice. So the Slits were really really inspiring. At that time, in that generation, it was amazing. They didn’t mind offending people, and you couldn’t offend them. They were just out there. Sadly that’s got lost a bit. Everyone seems to be offended by everything.
Bill: I do think its an interesting thing and its not really in the film, as a sort of outspoken narrative. But anyone that is paying attention, like yourself obviously, (I can tell from what you’re saying) will find it very easy to unearth a sub-text that this is what punk rock is. I do think we need some reminding in 2015. It was very frustrating for me for a long time to hear bands that I didn’t think were adding to the artistic conversation, but were towing the line in order to reap whatever cultural benefits from a sub-culture that’s become a main culture.
L.S: Yeah, you get that in London, and I expect you get it over there (The US) as well. In London, you can go to Camden or somewhere where a lot of the original punk scene kicked off, and there’s all these kids (a lot of them Japanese for some reason) who look exactly like we did, but it’s like 2015 and it maybe doesn’t mean anything. Nobody is offended or shocked. Its like Punk Disneyland. Its a tourist attraction.
Bill: Yeah, its an interesting thing. I’m old enough to remember a time when you used to drive down a street, and when you didn’t have a place to stay and you saw somebody dressed in a certain way, you could pull over and talk to them and stay with them, and just hang out. Now, that person would just look at you as if you were crazy.
L.S: They’d probably be a nice middle-class kid who still lives with Mummy and Daddy.
Bill: Yeah exactly. I’m an accountant and I got this cool ripped t-shirt.
L.S: Its funny because in Viv’s new book, Clothes Music, Boys, http://www.vivalbertine.com she talks about how in London in the late 70s, a lot of young people were living in squats and a lot of the bands were all around the North London area. You literally did just get to know people from them walking past where you were staying. I had some friends living in Carole Street, Camden (a female theatre group called “The Cunning Stunts,” ) and Scritti Politti lived just down the road and we just used to see Green and Tom Morley the drummer walking past us, and think, “Wow they’re so cool.’ Then we’d be talking to them. It was just like a totally different ball game. We didn’t have mobile phones or anything but everyone met up anyway. This whole social network developed, also around Art Colleges where a lot of the gigs happened. No Facebook! You think, “how did we do that? How did we get to know everybody?” Not just in London but everywhere.
Bill: Hopefully this film will remind people. There’s a lot of reminding that’s going on in terms of how different things were then. The difficulty with a film like this in terms of subject matter is to remind people. As I said, if you just take the fashion aspect its pretty easy to walk down the street now and you think “’oh yeah, right” but it wasn’t just “oh yeah right” in 1976.
L.S: The other thing was there was more political unity at that time. Say you had the Slits, the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, Scritti Politti…it was more about being outsiders, and predominately working-class kids, and there was a lot of awareness raising and coming together around social issues. There wasn’t the separation of all these groups. Everyone would all get together, (Black and White, Straight and Gay, Women’s Issues groups etc.) to show solidarity for the miners strike, gay rights, anti-racism, pro-abortion or whatever was going on, you know. I am not being overly romantic though. There were the separatists too, especially amongst the Radical feminists.
Bill: Yeah Viv (Albertine) has said that the 70’s were easier in some ways because there was something so clear to kick against. (Thatcherism. )
L.S Yeah, and everyone did it together. There wasn’t this kind of division of who’s more oppressed than who? No, “you can’t come on our march because you’re privileged,” rather than “lets join together against injustice.”
L.S: Viv talked about that in her book quite a lot. Nowadays, if you are critical of any aspect of how people are dealing with, or reading certain issues about identities, you are seen as being TOTALLY anti-whatever the cause is. Its tending to be black and white, all or nothing thinking. No chance for discussion and development of viewpoints, or thinking about stuff in a different way from a different perspective. Offending people now, or challenging lefty party lines, is seen as something that “hurts people.” That gets rid of debate pretty sharpishly. Whereas in my youth, we were provoking people, offending them so they might think in a different way, and not buy the mainstream narratives. Think outside the box. See through the bullshit. So from all that footage and stuff and actually visiting that stuff again, it might provoke the younger generation to question some of the bad narratives that are going on at the moment. Maybe kids today are sweating the small stuff while being distracted from the big stuff. You will have a young audience as well, won’t you?
Bill: Yeah I think so.
L.S: I think it’s a really good idea to take it round like a band. Are you going to distribute it through the net as well?
Bill: Yeah, basically we are going to tour it around first and then release on the digital platform last.
L.S: That’s cool. So is there anything else you need to say to our readers? How many days have you got left for fundraising?
Bill: The Kickstarter ends on the 7th of June. When we start the tour, we would like to get in touch with bands to play, and younger persons to get involved. We are going to do England first That’s only right. It’s the proper thing to do.
L.S: And its smaller (laughs)
Bill: We cant premiere over here (the US); that’d be too rude.(laughs)
L.S: Is there a big audience over there for the Slits?
Bill: Oh yeah. Everywhere I go in the US and meet up with any history people, its like “Oh the Slits!” It’s perfect in a way because they understand that they should know, but they don’t. It’s a perfect opportunity for a film like this.
L.S: The other thing that seems quite weird but incredible, and that we couldn’t have imagined in 1976, is that because of Spotify, YouTube, and itunes, people’s tastes are now “trans-decadian.” They have access to everything at their finger tips. All the interesting stuff from whatever era or genre they chose. (and the shit). They can easily listen to what their parents listened to. Where’s the bloody generation gap and the chance for youth rebellion? (laughs.) That’s so not fair of me. There is a lot of great new music if you can find it. But there’s no kind of time and place to pinpoint, or explode from, as music can be shared internationally and immediately. Maybe, because they are not finding that in the current culture they are going back in time. But hey! I haven’t got problems with things moving forward and changing. Making music on a computer at home, especially if its complex and innovative and of great quality, is great to share. It’s all maybe a bit more polished though. Cuts out the record companies. Makes it great for independence from record company contracts and things like that. Gives people loads of sound making tools. There’s many similarities to Punk in that anyone can do it.
Bill: We are definitely going to make everything as event based as possible to showcase newer Indie bands and musicians live who were inspired by the punk years.
L.S: That Punk DIY, it’s my formative years: it’s spirit d’age and all that stuff…and you do carry it with you. This magazine we are doing now…its being done with no money, its something we really believe in, new technology is opening up a new DIY culture where you can do really complex stuff without money and get it to a really large international community. The fanzines back in the day, which were photocopied and produced, had tiny local audiences.
Bill: We are definitely benefitting from that side of it.
L.S: And with filmmaking the equipment you have now and the quality footage it produces would have cost a fortune. Editing broadcast quality and all that shit.
Bill: Oh yeah. Generall,y I think film is in a situation that music was in during the early 80’s. its fallen out of the bourgeois class, into the hands of everyone. I love it. Its made my entire life possible.
L.S: I used to work on super 8 film back in the day because it was cheap and you could get a cheap projector. Now I have my little digital camera and you can whizz around and have a moving notebook. Actually, you can just record on your fucking phone for an hour! When we worked on super 8 you could film for 3 minutes, then you had to post it off to be developed and wait 2 weeks for it to come back. When you saw if it worked, you’d just got this grainy scratchy dark image and you might get about 30 seconds of useable stuff. It was a long process.
Bill: (laughs)Yeah new technology is good.
L.S: So I have heard Viv’s new stuff which I love…”Confessions of A MILF” resonates with me..
Are others in The Slits Gang making new music now?
Bill: Well it depends who you are talking about. Tess I don’t think so; Palm-Olive isn’t playing …the younger girls from the Slits re-formed have got things going on, certainly Hollie Cook (daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook).
I think that the whole arc of this film has been focusing on trying to define a concept that would unify all the things that are going on, but one of the things we love is this inability and unwillingness to be tamed, you know. First by a gender, then by a genre…it just keeps on going until they are not even willing to be contained by a band.
The thing that’s really heartening about the film is that it becomes so personal towards the end, where the ethos that started out in ’76′ encapsulated within a band are in the present day. You can see it in their hearts and minds, and I think that that is incredibly important. It’s something I feel pretty strongly about. I feel like the mode and the form is less important than the idea or the ethos, and I think that’s something we have had pretty good luck in getting across in the current edit.
For more information, and if you think you can support in any way as they still need money / donations to finish it…Fund-raising Slits nights?