Described in director Dee Mosbacher's mildly compelling documentary, Radical Harmonies, the film looks primarily at the formative years of women's music during the 1970s. Old concert footage is spliced together with interviews with many of the key players from that time, plus shots of modern-day women's music festivals and performances.
The focus here is on women's music as social force. It delves into the empowering of female musicians and the bringing together of communities of women and lesbians through concerts and music festivals; there is only a glance at the music itself, like Williamson's classic album The Changerand the Changed, and how it might have influenced later musicians.
As free and open as the Sixties supposedly were, musically and socially, there were virtually no all-female rock groups outside of acts like Fanny (remember them?). Members of the band the Berkeley Women's Music Collective describe just how radical that idea was as they were turned away from record companies with an "oh, we have a girl band," or "we would just have to pay for your abortions." Singer Margie Adam recalls how women were "scared to death to go to these" early all-women concerts, for fear of being outed and losing their jobs.
It's an interesting and worthy subject for a documentary, given its importance to the generation of female bands and musicians who would come later, as well as its relevance to the larger women's liberation movement during that time. But the documentary veers too much into "old friends reminiscing about the old days" territory, giving it the feel of a celebratory paean, despite the many interesting comments by old and new-timers (Ani DiFranco and Melissa Etheridge).
And it largely fails to deliver on its advertised promise to take us from Woodstock through women's liberation and the subsequent explosion of gender barriers in music. A little dot-connecting would have gone a long way, to both a larger context and to many of today's female musicians, lesbian and straight, who owe a large debt to the work of Williamson and her friends.
After all, it's interesting to know that grrrl power started with a winsome voice in the wilderness. -- John Anderson
Radical Harmonies plays at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 27, at the Regal South Beach Cinema.