DVD Review: The Go-Go's

The Go-Go's is a well-made look at this influential band.
  |   Comments

From director Alison Ellwood comes The Go-Go's, a film about the legendary all-female group. The documentary includes interviews with every member of the group, as well as former band members and their former manager and documents their rise from an LA punk band that could barely play their instruments to becoming the first (and only) all-female group to write their own songs and play their own instruments to score a number one album to their messy breakup and subsequent reunions. The group, which just received a nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, continues to write new music and tour when able.

The band's story begins in Los Angeles 1979. Original drummer Elissa Bello and original bassist Margot Olavarria give extensive interviews about the group's early days. Guitarist Jane Wiedlin speaks of being disappointed with the Sex Pistols' now legendary Winterland show and decided she wanted to be in a band that did an update on the old girl group sound, only playing their own instruments -- instruments they didn't really know how to play. Wiedlin, Olavarria, and singer Belinda Carlisle met guitarist Charlotte Caffey at an Eyes show (she was that group's bassist) and asked her to join the band. Caffey lied about her ability to play lead guitar, but made it work like everyone else.

As the band started to get more of a following, they wanted the members to take their roles more seriously, with the members encouraging Bello to quit her job to focus more time on the band. When that didn't happen, the group found Baltimore transplant Gina Schock, who cracked the whip and pushed the band to practice more and improve. Wanting to write a song with a beat, Caffey came up with one of the group's signature songs, "We Got The Beat," which she thought the band would hate because it was a pop song and not their traditional punk sound. Instead, the group loved it and soon scored a tour in London opening for Madness. When the group returned home, people thought they were big stars and the individual Go-Go's said nothing to dispel that rumor. Everything seemed to be going great, but the group's new direction caused more friction within the band.

Olavarria didn't like the group's new direction, wanting to stick to her punk roots. When she was sick for a New Year's Eve show, Kathy Valentine (who had been a fan of the group and learned their songs on a cocaine binge) filled in. Soon she would be the new bassist, with the band firing Olavarria and having their then manager Ginger Canzoneri (who is also interviewed in the film) break the news to her. The group's classic lineup was now complete and their meteoric rise was about to begin.

After Wiedlin co-wrote "Our Lips Are Sealed" with Terry Hall from the Specials about a fling the pair had while on tour together, the group caught the attention of Miles Copeland (manager of the Police and brother of Stewart) who signed them to IRS records. Their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, was a smash success, eventually passing The Police (who the group was on tour with) on the Billboard charts. The video for "Our Lips Are Sealed" was made for $6,000 of unused money from a Police video shoot in fact. The group was rising quickly, but more trouble was brewing.

Resentment of the main songwriters (Wiedlin and Caffey) from the non-songwriters such as Schock and Carlisle started to take hold when they realized Wiedlin and Caffey were getting much larger royalty checks. Much more serious was the fact that Caffey was developing a serious heroin addiction, one that she tried to hide from the band. She's not the only Go-Go with addiction problems -- Carlisle had a lengthy cocaine habit for one -- but Caffey's seems to be the main one that is focused on in the documentary. The group felt their second record, Vacation, while successful, was rushed by the label and didn't have the songs the first one had. The members also decided that Canzoneri should be part of a larger management firm, which did not sit well with her and eventually led to her leaving. By the time of their third album, Talk Show, there was much infighting and Copeland says he had a band member throw up on him in the recording studio. Caffey became more withdrawn and Wiedlin did the bulk of the songwriting. When management decided that the group should split the publishing equally, Wiedlin balked and quit the group after their tour ended.

Valentine moved to guitar to fill the void and Paula Jean Brown took over on bass, but it was not the same. Brown did encourage Caffey to go to rehab (who got bad enough that Ozzy kicked her out of his dressing room in Rio) and wrote "Mad About You," which Carlisle ended up recording as a solo song, which was also a bone of contention for the band members as it was originally intended to be a Go-Go's song. The group, which seemed so promising just a few short years before, had imploded. Caffey cleaned herself up and she and Carlisle announced they were breaking up the band, with Caffey continuing to write for Carlisle's solo projects.

The band members went on to solo careers with varying degrees of success, Carlisle's being the most noteworthy. The group reunited a couple times, even recording a new album 2001's God Bless The Go-Go's, which is not mentioned at all. What is mentioned though, is the group's current reunion and new single, the Cheap Trick-esque "Club Zero." We see footage of the band rehearsing the song and it plays over the end credits. While The Go-Go's may not cover all of the group's baggage, it covers a lot and doesn't pull any punches along the way, giving a balanced look at this influential band. Well worth checking out.