I discovered The Gits by chance, totally unaware of their story, and immediately fell in love. Raw, melodic punk, fronted by a woman who sounded like the lovechild of Joan Jett and Bessie Smith, I hadn’t heard anything like them. Ever. A little research later, I realised they were more than just an amazing band, they are a chapter in musical history.
Kerri O’Kane’s bittersweet film is one of the most important documentaries of the last decade, a no-frills, down to earth record of a band that changed the world for many people. The Gits were on the cusp of mainstream success, after years of support and loyalty from the Seattle underground, but it was an acknowledgment suffered rather then enjoyed. On July 7, 1993, frontwoman and poet Mia Zapata was raped and murdered by an unknown assailant. The bittersweet beauty of O’Kane’s film is that it is a journey of grief, tragedy and justice. When O’Kane began the project, the crime was an unsolved mystery. As filming commenced, the case was kept alive by an extended community of family, fans and fellow musicians, who raised money for legal fees and campaigned to keep the crime in the media spotlight. Released on the fifteenth anniversary of Mia’s death, the film documents not only the devastating loss of such a beautiful, talented being, but also the discovery and conviction of her killer over a decade later.
It would have been very easy for O’Kane to rely upon the tragedy of Mia’s horrific death for artistic purposes, using her as a Messianic punk rock saint and relying on tearjerk tactics to make an impact. Instead, she has honoured history by maintaining Zapata’s memory through plain truth and honest filmmaking. A treasure for fans, the documentary is made up of early video footage and artwork, in-depth lyrical discussions, and an abundance of frank interviews from Zapata’s family and friends, the surviving trio of Gits, and fellow musicians such as Joan Jett, Kathleen Hanna and members of 7 Year Bitch. From the bands’ beginnings living in the affectionately named Rat House, a communal building where local punk bands lived like one big family, to their growing fame and dedicated following both at home in Sub Pop Seattle and in Europe, ‘The Gits’ is not a weepy ode, but a celebration of the band as a whole and the legacy they have left.
O’Kane has captured The Gits for what they were: true, free-spirited punks, neither posing nor imitating but living life and creating beautiful music. While Mia’s death is addressed and confronted, it is not anger or grief that pervades the film but rather the poignant and lasting effect she had on everyone around her. O’Kane has immortalised her not as a tragic, female victim but as an example of how wonderful humans can be. ‘The Gits’ is not just a film for fans, it should be mandatory viewing for everyone old enough to work a DVD player; a poignant, sincere reminder that life, music and love are positive, powerful gifts that should be celebrated and honoured every day.
[Liberation Entertainment; July 7, 2008]