More than 50 years since rock-and-roll first started to break down social barriers, that ostensibly revolutionary form still has considerable boundaries for more than half the population. Don't think rock-and-roll is too much a boys' game? Spend some time listening to rock radio and think about how many female voices you hear.
There was a time, a decade or so ago, when those obstacles seemed to be falling fast, when the rise of alternative rock brought with it a progressive impulse that helped launch impolite female rockers from Bikini Kill to Hole.
The Portland, Oregon-based Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, the subject of the documentary Girls Rock!, looks back fondly on that time. In fact, most of the camp counselors are riot-grrl-influenced musicians (most notably Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein and Gossip vocalist Beth Ditto) whose careers leapt from the shoulders of alt-rock goddesses such as Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna, Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and the Breeders' Kim Deal.
A straightforward examination of one weeklong camp session, Girls Rock! plops viewers down amid a gaggle of girls, ages 8 to 18, who come together for a week to form bands, write songs, and then perform them at a camp-closing concert. The film follows the exploits of campers such as Laura, a 15-year-old Korean death-metal fan from Oklahoma City; Amaka Amelia, an 8-year-old guitar-wielding tyke tyrant; Misty, a 17-year-old bass player overcoming self-esteem problems; and Palace, a precocious, shrieking, 8-year-old vocalist.
Laura laments her female friends back home, who brag about all the male friends they have in bands. "Why don't you start your own band, super genius?" Laura asks, derisively. "That's better than having a boyfriend in a band."
Ultimately, the camp is less about music than about fostering a healthy process for friendship and creativity. It functions the way healthy subcultures do: as a safe haven for exploration; as an incubator for ideas.
Unfortunately, Girls Rock! isn't quite as interesting as its subject. Like so many documentaries, it thrives on what it's about more than how it's about it. As we meet these girls and learn a bit about their lives outside camp and then follow them through the process, the movie evokes Spellbound, the recent spelling-bee doc that was similarly conceived but far better organized.
The Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp will be throwing a post-screening party Friday, April 18th, at 10 p.m. at Murphy's. The Red Mollies, Those Darlins, Audra Brown, and Girls of the Gravitron will perform. Tickets are $7 or $5 with a ticket stub from that night's 7 p.m. Girls Rock! screening. For more info on the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp, which is offering summer sessions in both Murfreesboro and Memphis, see sgrrc.org.
Opens Friday, April 18th