MFW_Blog | Monday May 16th, 2011
We welcome new guest blogger MusicFilmWeb, the online resource for news and background lowdown on music documentaries. Their first post is an insightful interview with RADICAL ACT director Tex Clark (pictured left) by MFW’s Andy Markowitz, published on December 17, 2010. Clark spoke to Markowitz about the film’s remarkable history, the timeliness of its current re-release and the radicalness of contemporary performers like Lady Gaga.
In the mid ‘90s, as female-led indie and punk bands proliferated under labels like foxcore and riot grrl, a college student named Allison “Tex” Clark criss-crossed America with a VHS camera interviewing new-breed women rockers. Pioneers like Meg Hentges and Gretchen Phillips of Two Nice Girls, cult heroes like Toshi Reagon and Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna (later of Le Tigre), and musicians little known outside local scenes in Austin, Baltimore, or Champaign-Urbana talked to Clark about how picking up guitars and drumsticks was not just musically liberating but an empowering and political act.
Clark finished Radical Act in 1995 and went to law school (a Fort Worth native, she’s now a public defender in Portland, Oregon). For 15 years the movie was virtually unseen outside Clark’s living room, where she’d occasionally show it to friends. Then a chance encounter brought Radical Act to the attention of indie doc distributor A Million Movies a Minute. Now out on DVD, available for VOD rental on realeyz.tv and other outlets, and slotted to screen at Portland’s Reel Music Film Festival, it’s snapshot of a time when women, especially gay women, were starting to assert themselves en masse in a mostly male domain.
Before heading to work one morning this week, Tex Clark talked to MFW about her DIY doc’s making and resurrection.
First, are you the only female Tex you know?
No. There is – well, yes, I am, because the other female Tex that I knew is a trans-man and is no longer a she. So yes, but that wasn’t always the case. He is the main subject of a movie called Gendernauts, if you are cruising the documentary section and you’d like to find out about the other Tex.
What were you doing in 1995 and how did it lead to making Radical Act?
I had been on the road as a roadie for a band called Two Nice Girls. They broke up in 1992, but they were sort of hailed at the time in the music press, such as it was, as the lesbian Beatles. They were a four-piece, really musically great band. I just had written them a letter when I was in college and said, “Hey, I’ll sell your T-shirts and drive your van if you let me come on the road with you,” and they thought that sounded like a pretty good deal. So I had a lot of connections through the music world, through the acts that opened for them, and talking to them about music. I was 18 when that roadie gig began, and I was really interested in making documentaries, and so my girlfriend at the time, we got on the road together and started calling people up and asking if they’d give us interviews.
Was it through your association with Two Nice Girls or through your own personal interests that the movie you decided to make was a movie about women in rock and not a DIY or underground rock film in general?
You know, I was in my early 20s, and I was in college and thinking about what it means to be a feminist, the personal is political, all those ideas. I was really interested in, and still am interested in, feminism and women’s voices. But also I just really like kickass hard rock that is being written and produced by women. But certainly my association with Two Nice Girls was really helpful. I had maybe a little bit of an in.
What happened to Radical Act between 1995 and 2010?
I started law school in 1995, in September. I had submitted the documentary to a couple of festivals, but at the time I was on video, I wasn’t on film, and the film world hadn’t quite bridged the gap between, are we gonna show video, is video really cinema, and all that. Like Sundance, for instance, wouldn’t accept submissions unless they were on celluloid. And there were a lot of other ones. I mean, I wasn’t going to get into Sundance, I know that, but they
Photo: Gretchen Phillips of Two Nice Girls
sort of were tastemaker for that kind of policy. So I submitted it a couple of places, but really I was just studying, I was in law school, and the activist kind of interest that you see in the documentary got transformed into activism within the law and social justice interests that I had.
[The movie] was something I’d shown a couple of friends over the years, and I stayed in touch with some of the musicians. But it was just kinda done. And then through social circles I met Erin Donovan, who has A Million Movies a Minute, and she was telling me about a project she had, and I said, “You know, I made a documentary once, but, you know, it’s not very good, you won’t like it” – you know, “It was years ago, da da da da.” And she was like, “Oh, I’ll look at it.” And she went crazy. She was like, “This is on, we are gonna do this.”
I’m so grateful to her, because I always had it rolling in the back of my mind that I wanted this period in time to be remembered for the sake of history, and for it to be in the library, or, you know, in the world – as somebody who’s interested in music and that period of time, that Radical Act would be out there as having told part of the story. It was a showcase for these folks who were talking about music and what it meant to them, and all of whom are really great musicians. So I hope some people who see it say, “Who’s this Meg Hentges? Let’s see if we can find some of her records.” I hope people go back and listen to some of the musicians I recorded.
What do you make of someone like Lady Gaga today, a pop star who is an out lesbian but also a woman who’s got a highly sexualized image? Is that evolution in the kind of terms you and your subjects were talking about in the film? Is she engaging in a radical act?
I have to tell you, I am not very plugged in to pop music. I know who Lady Gaga is, and I’ve seen her mostly in the tabloid internet bits, like “Oh my god, can you believe what she did?” but I don’t really know her music very well. But it seems like she’s a good thing, from my very distant vista. She’s doing something that has always been done, from Bessie Smith and Dusty Springfield and on and on. Which is, there are women who’ve had non-heterosexuality vibes who are making music that’s pretty sexual, and are embraced. But yeah, I think there’s something really queer and “screw you” about [Lady Gaga’s] public persona that’s entertaining.