by Greil Marcus

(1) The Gits, directed by Kerri O’Kane (Liberation Entertainment). They were Mia Zapata, vocals; Matt Dresdner, bass; Andrew Kessler, a.k.a. Joe Spleen, guitar; and Steve Moriarty, drums. They formed at Antioch in 1986 and moved to Seattle in 1989, in time to catch the second wave of Northwest punk. The first half of this long-after-the-fact documentary is the band coming together, finding its music, and the pace is frustrating. You get only tiny snatches of songs, onstage, on the sound track, and what little is there is so alluring, so full of the spirit of someone driving herself through a storm of her own making, so delicious (“Another Shot of Whiskey,” “Here’s to Your Fuck”—they took Dennis Hopper’s rants in Blue Velvet and made a language out of them) that you can barely stand it when the film moves back to exposition, interviews, scene-setting. Inside the band’s velocity, the sound has grandeur; as Moriarty pounds shirtless and Dresdner and Kessler leave the action to Zapata, she is shockingly alive onstage, breathing the band’s tremendous, unpredictable rhythms like air. But as the band members tell you how they began to come into their own, you are there, and, bit by bit, whole songs begin to assemble themselves, in complete performances, in cutups of many performances, in costumes (street clothes, Medieval court jesters), in haircuts: “While You’re Twisting, I’m Still Breathing,” “Bob (Cousin O.),” “Second Skin.” It’s a great thrill to watch a whole creation take place in full before you, a song as a life lived. I’ve never seen the special quality of liberation punk offered people brave enough to take the stage and hold it put across so powerfully onscreen—and as the band members talk years later, they don’t hide the sense of privilege they still retain, the privilege of, once, making their own drama.

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Greil Marcus will be teaching this fall at the University of Minnesota.

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