Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits – film review

Last night the provincial tour of Here To Be Heard: The Story of The Slits rolled into Derby for a showing at QUAD.

Told mainly from the viewpoint of bassist Tessa Pollitt, the film looks over her shoulder as she reminisces through a scrapbook of age-spotted newspaper cuttings and blurred photographs. Interspersed with interviews – including with Viv Albertine, Bruce Smith, Kate Korus, and later members Holly Cook and Anna Schulte – it evokes a loneliness, and the contrast of quiet reflection against the violent energy of the band brings a poignancy to the film which no amount of cloying nostalgia would have managed. This is very much a personal telling of a story of cultural importance to us all and it’s a credit to director William Badgley that he gets out of the way and let’s The Slits tell their story, their way with little interference.

From the beginnings of the band, rising from the squatter scene and the birth of punk it follows the tangle of relationships within the band and with the bands around them. It shows chaos in all its creative glory – individuals who found a way to be free within themselves because the fear of conforming to society’s tight ideals elicited more fear than being hated or failing ever did.

Musically it tracks how the band sped through a few early line-ups before hitting the magic combination and immediately getting out there and finding their way through doing rather than planning. From the controversy caused by their very presence, never mind behaviour, on the Clash‘s White Riot tour, through to the influence of reggae and dub on their sound, to the creation of iconic album Cut there should be no doubt of this band’s creative chops. Indeed, while subsequent album Return Of The Giant Slits may have afforded them less attention it too showed a band who were unafraid to move forward and explore – not for them the pigeonhole of punk, it just happened to be the scene in which they first appeared. This was a band who stayed true to themselves, while moving sound forward even after a long hiatus and a reformation in a very different line-up.

Culturally then this band embody the ethos of punk; destroying to create time and again. They blend genres, they don’t let technical ability hold them back, and they give a great big fuck you to any idea of how they should present themselves or behave because of their sex. The very nature of a girl group is subversive – the rejection of the idea of competition in favour of community – a bond which meant however vitriolic the energy between them it was always them against the world.

And this is the brilliant surprise of this imperfectly perfect film: the honest portrayal of female friendship on screen. No sugar-coated gentility here. Love is brutal – friendship no less so than the romantic kind – and this film didn’t shy from that. It showed the solidarity, and the separation, the rushes of joy and the crushes of grief. That the film was driven in no small part by Ari Up both before and after her death (in 2010 at the age of 48) shows not just the power of her as a person, but the positive impact she had on the lives around her. Again, credit here that her life and death were treated with dignity – no mythologising, just huge respect paid.

The story of The Slits is long overdue – a band vital to music; intrinsic to a period of our culture; inspiring, adventurous and creatively brave – they rightly deserve to be honoured and celebrated. They paved the way for female artists, and more fundamentally for women to have their own agency in creative expression and self-sovereignty in identity, and Here To Be Heard simply and honestly captures this and more.

If you missed the showing at QUAD you can see Here To Be Heard at the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham on Thursday 19 April 2018, with Q&A hosted by Forever Records with a DJ set to follow.

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