The following review is written by our friend and fellow documentary lover Joe from Mechanical Forest Sound, check out his blog for Hot Doc reviews, exceptional live recording and probably a helluva lot more thought out writings
An historical document with a strong and living pulse, Hegge’s film tells the story of Toronto’s Fifth Column, who were most active in the decade spanning 1985-1995. The doc tells the story of core members G.B. Jones, Caroline Azar and Beverly Breckenridge alongside the others who came and went during the group’s lifespan, mixing contemporary interviews with copious period footage. Luckily, the band were also film buffs, linked in with the underground movie scene of the time — so there’s a lot of awesome-looking Super-8 material, both from the band as well as film-maker friends, to put on the screen.
A vital link between Toronto musical eras that we might roughly label as Treat Me Like Dirt and Wavelength, Fifth Column took the punk/DIY ethos, but not the sound, inventing their own brand of psychedelic noise. Although standing alone musically (the early material here sounds excellently otherworldly), their uncompromising existence as strong woman musicians was an inspiration to the Riot Grrrl movement (Kathleen Hanna is interviewed, acting as an articulate advocate of their influence on her own work in Bikini Kill) as well as the foundation of queercore. Regarding the latter, the film also explores the overlapping world of zines and their importance in disseminating non-mainstream music in a pre-internet world. Film-maker Bruce La Bruce, who started as the band’s go-go dancer, is interviewed in bringing those elements into focus.
It’s also, of course, the story of strong personalities wresting art out of their many clashes — and those clashes stood at the nexus of a lot of things that read like a list of the best of Toronto’s music culture today — from Will Munro’s gay-straight alliances to the electro-queer sounds of Peaches and Kids on TV, to say nothing of the legion of strong, independent-minded women making music in this city today. Though hardly a household name, considering Fifth Column’s legacy gives hope that this doc will fix them more firmly as groundbreakers. It deserves to be seen; their music deserves to be heard.
Screens with: The Man That Got Away (Dir: Trevor Anderson, 25 minutes, Canada), which asks, in its formal construction, “what makes a documentary?” Telling the life story of director Anderson’s “black-sheep” uncle, this short takes the rather unique approach of rewriting his life as a musical. It’s befitting to the subject, who ran away to join a male chorus on Broadway, and gives the film a fresh and ebullient vibe. A musical is only as good as its music, and the six original songs by Bryce Kulak, who also stars, generally carry the task. (The songs are streaming online at CBC3.) The film also makes excellent use of it’s location, a concentric parking ramp that follows Uncle Jimmy’s sad, spiralling descent. Also: Judy Garland!