[/i]dir. Arne Johnson and Shane King
There is something purely exhilarating about watching a process actualized into a concrete form. In this film, the Rock 'n' Roll camp for Girls creates a platform for young girls to scream, blather, berate and scorn in ways that are not typically sanctioned by society. They are given the opportunity to unleash furious diatribes against forces they might not be able to fully articulate but which consistently force them into specific roles designed primarily to keep them quiet or at least unassuming. Four girls are featured and their individual arcs make up the bulk of the film. There is also nifty animation that proceeds difficult and terrifying statistics about the difficulties young girls face just to be heard.
According to the film young girls start school with an advantage and leave with a disadvantage. Something like $53 billion dollars is spent annually by girls on beauty supplies and fashion. The film attacks the Brittney model and the fact that perfect, impossible bodies are touted by the media as ideal. The message seems to be quite clear: ignore the media and take up something useful that you can manipulate in accordance with your own desires, your own markings. Forcing these girls to pick up instruments and write songs while performing on stage in front of 750 patrons is one way of allowing them to break through toward something necessary and vital. The program isn't as much taught as it is encouraged by a group of women who have suffered through the trials of the music industry and who feel obligated to share themselves with the next generation. Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney and others help guide these girls toward marshaling their primal urges into music. Music heals wounds and provides a structure for anyone with enough ambition to realize various versions of themselves with energy, drive, and intense passion.
The girls range in age from 8-18 and the four highlighted are an eclectic bunch indeed. Palace is a an 8 year old darling proto-howler with a piercing scream that hopefully will stay with her well into adult hood. She writes a song about hating San Francisco and it's so cute to see such misanthropy spew forth from the lips of someone so impossibly young. She possessed everything a rock goddess needs: an astute fashion sense, exceptionally long hair, and an undeniable stage presence. She's also feisty and demanding and has a difficult time hearing the word "No". Laura is a 17 year old Korean-American who loves death metal and who has body imagine issues. She's so infectious throughout, possessed with a winning smile that she flashes at every opportunity. I truly wanted to see her find her element within the death metal milieu but there just wasn't any other girls remotely interesting in this particular type of music. Misty has had more than a life's worth of difficulties. Before the camp opened she spent a good while institutionalized and before that she was a meth addict. Considering she'd never played bass before she manages to play with confidence; it's a joy to watch the wind playing with her hair as she plunks out various chords. Finally, there is Amelia; she's obsessed with noise and feedback and plays her guitar like it's got some sort of disease. She's frantic, nervous, and can hardly sit still long enough to formalized a song for the competition. It's absolutely adorable to watch her slide and attempt to play the thing with her tongue. That is pure rock 'n' roll and she embodies the spirit perfectly.
Overall, this is an infectious film that conveys a real sense of urgency in how society handles its young girls as they try to make their way in the world. The camp not only offers the opportunity to play music; it also strives to empower girls by teaching them self defense techniques that are just plain useful for anyone. Many of these girls had never picked up an instrument before so one can imagine the challenge in managing to transform them into actual stage performers by camp's end. The music itself ranges from pedestrian to actually quite accomplished. Of course some of the girls had gone this route before and were a bit more polished than the neophytes. The spirit of this film is ultimately one of enriching one's life through the undeniable force of artistic expression. Teaching these girls that they are capable and they don't have to mask their intelligence just to get along is an extraordinary gesture on the part of the camp's organizers. Learning how to rock simply means learning how to fight through life's pains in search of something beautiful that is an indelible part of you. This film celebrates the joy of pinpoint control, of inclusion, of creating works of lasting value.