Saturday, January 02, 2010

Film Review: All Over Me

All Over Me
dir. Alex Sichel

Peccadillo Pictures DVD

Reviewed by Sophie Mayer

In her autobio-stage show Paradoxical Undressing, Kristin Hersh tells the story of an early show with Throwing Muses, the band she put together with her sister Tanya Donnelly when they were still in high school in the early 1980s. Coming offstage after playing a spot in a punk show, the band encountered a fan who asked, “What did you say your band name is? Throwing Up Mucus?” There’s a gulf between what he thought he heard with his punk ears on and the nascent riot grrrl protest of the band’s actual name – but there’s also a truth. Riot grrrl, inspired by punk and feminist performance art in equal measures, threw the concept of the muse out the window with songs that often threw bodily fluids and processes in audience’s faces; metaphorically, for the most part, although Donita Sparks from L7 did throw a bloody tampon into the crowd at Reading in 1992. Embodiment, angst, rage, wild emotion: all those things girls were supposed to keep under wraps burned through in the long hot summers after the ’87 crash.

Riding the crest of riot grrrl, All Over Me brings feminist protest and adolescent vomit in equal measures as it plunges the viewer into the woozy world of Hell’s Kitchen summer with fifteen year olds Claudia (Alison Folland, who popped up in I’m Not There alongside Kim Gordon), known as Claude, and Ellen (Tara Subkoff, a New York hipster who’s in We Live in Public). They’re trying to form their own band, inspired by Helium (lead singer Mary Timony appears in the film as a member of the comedically-named grrrl band CoochiePop), Patti Smith, Babes in Toyland, and Sleater Kinney, who all appear on the soundtrack. Ellen’s a little distracted by neighbourhood bad boy Mark (Cole Hauser, who went on to play tough in the Riddick films and K-Ville), while Claude’s a little distracted by Ellen’s distraction. While Ellen goes boy-crazy (literally, as Mark turns her on to coke and booze), Claude finds herself drawn to pink-haired guitarist Lucy (Leisha Hailey, who grew up to become Alice on The L Word). What seems like a classic love triangle is given edge and dimension when Mark is unsettled by Claude’s new neighbour, Luke (Pat Briggs, lead singer of Psychotica), a queer musician who has befriended Claude’s shy workmate Jesse (Wilson Cruz, aka Ricky from My So Called Life).

Hello? How have you not bought the DVD already? Riot grrrl, Wilson Cruz, Leisha Hailey with pink hair, and thanks to Lisa Cholodenko and Maria Maggenti in the credits… As if that’s not enough, Sylvia Sichel pens dialogue that sounds, yknow, how actual teenagers, like, speak or whatever, while her sister Alex keeps the camera intimate and mobile, like a more chilled-out Spike Lee joint. Unlike the Campion sisters, they weren’t able to sustain their filmmaking partnership, only creating this jewel of a film. Maybe that’s because it’s so of its time and place: a time when grrrls could do anything and everyone pitched in to help. Maybe it’s just me (I’m listening to Helium as I write this) but somehow All Over Me’s timeliness is also its timelessness, in the way that the music brings the swirl of adolescent feeling to the surface.

This is the ur-queer film, way more so (and way less pretentious) than Go Fish – and possibly the only film ever to catch the moment of infinite possibility that was mid-nineties riot grrrl, capturing how it felt to be bouncing up and down in a club full of grrrls in ripped jeans and home-cut hair, comparing guitar licks with boys wearing nail varnish. Claude might be broke, but she has an electric guitar, roller skates, Patti Smith on CD, and a paintbox. Long before Naomi was dreaming of Emily to the strains of Sleater Kinney on Skins, the Sichel Sisters (director Alex and writer Sylvia) were doing it for themselves, setting queer teenage hearts aflame with a film that’s part love story, part rocking soundtrack and all heart. These girls rule!

Sophie Mayer is a writer, editor and educator. Find out more at



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