SXSW Double Feature – Ovarian Psycos and The Smart Studios Story
Ovarian Psycos: Directed by Joanna Sokolowski and Kate Trumbull-LaValle, Ovarian Psycos documents the Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade, an all-women-of-color feminist collective in East L. A. They use their monthly lunar bike rides as a rallying point for discussion, activism, and friendship. The group deploys elements of old school feminism, punk, D.I.Y., Riot Grrrls, and gang culture to empower themselves and other women they consider “at risk” adults. While the directors talk to many women, the film follows the lives of three in particular. Xela de la X is a single mother and one of the founders of the Psycos. She struggles with raising her daughter, having enough time to devote to everything that needs her attention, and making a place for herself in a world that has been less than nurturing. Evie is one of the youngest members of the group and has to balance her Salvadoran mother’s hopes and expectations with her own desires for independence and self-expression. Andi Xoch is an artist and leader whose family is uninvolved in her work, and their lack of acceptance hits her hard. All of the women face some kind of censure from their communities, but they each find their own way to make their lives, and the lives of other women, better.
This is a great film. If the Ovarian Psycos 1970s/Riot Grrrl hybrid feminism seems a little old-fashioned, it’s because they get to choose and create what is appropriate for their needs right now. It’s immediate and inspiring and much more vital than the bland white-people twitter feminism I mostly see. (For the record, I am a white-looking assimilated Latina. I consider myself to be an off-white person with ties to both communities. Yeah, I’m a pocha.) These are women my daughter’s age who are fighting to believe they have value in a world that does not respect them. The film does a good job of sharing the women’s individual stories, and also showing what makes them great as a group. It left me feeling a little jealous that I don’t have an awesome collective of ladies to foment revolution with. A good documentary leaves me thinking about the content and not the form, and I still haven’t stopped thinking about these women days later.
Final Grade: A-
The Smart Studios Story: I’m going to be 100% real with you; I do not know why I picked this movie to review. I probably did because the blurb for it mentioned the band L7, and I think they’re cool. Then I procrastinated for a while and started thinking it might be some annoying pretentious piece of crap about alternative rock dudes that I would hate. I could not have been more wrong. While it could have used a few more interviews with women, Shirley Manson and Donita Sparks were the only ones included, it was not the macho-fueled music doc I was dreading. Director Wendy Schneider tells a great story, with kind of surprise ending involving the band Garbage. (It might not be a surprise for anyone into the band, but for me they were just a group I had to listen to all the time because my kid was super into them. She also made me listen to Blink 182, which was not cool at all. At least Garbage is good.)
The Smart Studios Story starts in early 1980s Madison, Wisconsin when two musicians, Steve Marker and Butch Vig, opened Smart Studios. Both had been playing for a while and found themselves excited by how the recording process worked. They found a space, covered the inside with egg cartons for soundproofing, and set to work making albums for their friends and anyone else who could scrape up the money for studio time. It was never about the money for them; they were just really into the whole process. Over time they recorded punk bands like Die Kreuzen, Appliances-SFB, Tar Babies, Spooner, and Killdozer. (Just as a note, in the 1980s nobody called music “alternative”. If you were weird, you were punk, and that covered a WIDE variety of sounds.) Back here in Seattle, a lot of people noticed the music coming out of Smart Studios, especially Killdozer. (I can testify to this. There was a solid chunk of time in the late 80s where almost every mix tape I received had one of their songs on it. I liked them, but maybe not that much.) Smashing Pumpkins had already come over from Chicago, and soon Nirvana would follow. Bruce Vig produced their Nevermind album, and things got hoppin’ after that.
This film does a great job of describing a specific time and place. I’m originally from Southern Oregon, and the Madison scene felt a lot like home: small college-town folk being creative for lack of anything else to do. The film is not just about Marker and Vig, but shows a whole community of people coming together to create music and have fun. Anyone interested in the artistic process is going to find a lot to like here.
Final Grade A-