The many female voices that were given a platform with the rise of punk and post-punk in the ’70s and ’80s have been finding further amplification in the 21st century. Recent memoirs by musicians Vivien Goldman and Viv Albertine (as well as Jenn Pelly’s brilliant entry into the 33 ⅓ book series focusing on the debut album by the Raincoats) have helped re-examine the work of these artists—and add fuel to the fires of young women looking to make their own noise.
The hope was that Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits, a documentary from director William E. Badgley about the boisterous, edgy ensemble the Slits, would fan those flames even higher. While that’s certainly possible, the Slits themselves aren’t well-served by this frustratingly shallow look into the band’s history and impact.
Badgley, who will be in attendance for the film’s Portland screening, does present some stuff that’s absolutely worth taking a look at: The energy of the Slits’ music, a fearless blending of punk and reggae, is felt with inspiring force thanks to some fantastic archival footage, as is the indefatigable presence of the group’s leader and vocalist Ari Up. But despite appearances from fellow artists like Goldman and Don Letts, Here to Be Heard doesn’t put the Slits’ work into any kind of historical context. Their influence, too, is understated: Not once does Badgley explore the significant influence the Slits had on modern acts like Bikini Kill or Portland’s Hurry Up.
But the biggest missing piece here is Ari Up, who passed away in 2010. While her often goofy presence is alive in video that was shot during the band’s reunion tours in the late ’00s and through readings from her bandmate Tessa Pollitt, Up’s perspective is still absent. That leaves her drive to make art, and her understanding of what the band meant to her and the world, completely lost.