‘The Go-Go’s’ Showcases the Spirit of Girl Power


Melanie Nissen

A still from “The Go-Go’s” by Alison Ellwood. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

By Oakley Burt, Arts Editor


Few artists have achieved the level of fame and success as the Go-Go’s. An all-female punk-pop band, the Go-Go’s made history as the first female band to play their own instruments, write their own songs and have a debut album spend six consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200. It was clear from the beginning that history had a plan for them – though it was not always a straightforward path. Now, 40 years later, the Go-Go’s raw, debaucherous and unapologetic story has proper documentation with “The Go-Go’s” — premiering at the Sundance Film Festival as part of its Documentary Premiers program. 

This terrific documentary directed by Alison Ellwood (“History of the Eagles”) digs deep into the Go-Go’s unconventional history, chronicling their rise to stardom in an industry that didn’t take them seriously, along with their personal struggles as individuals and as a band. 

Formed in 1978, the members of Go-Go’s were instantly drawn to the underground Los Angeles punk scene. Founding members Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin noticed the lack of female punk artists in the city and decided to start an all female band. They recruited Margot Olavarria, Elissa Bello and Charlotte Caffey to join them, and thus the Go-Go’s were born. 

The footage of their first gig at the Masque Club is thrilling to watch — five women on stage, dressed in wild outfits paired with multi-colored eyeshadow and smeared lipstick. “They played three songs, and two of them were the same song,” a witness remembers from the show. Their sound was rough and wobbly, but they were figuring it out along the way. 

Eventually it all clicked — after dropping Olavarria and Bello and adding Gina Schock on drums and Kathy Valentine on bass. From there, the Go-Go’s experienced meteoric success with hit songs “We Got the Beat,” “Vacation”and “Our Lips Are Sealed.” The Go-Go’s were one of the first widely popular female rock bands, and they were a rock band that defied any preconceived notions of what female artists should sound, look and behave like. 

The Go-Go’s were on top of the world, then all hell broke loose. At the height of their careers they found themselves dealing with debilitating drug and alcohol habits, pressures to stay relevant and financial disputes over publishing. By the time they recorded and toured their third studio album, “Talk Show,” they had all mentally checked out. Their reign as the queens of punk-pop ended soon after.

To tell their story, Ellwood assembled archived media and conducted candid interviews with the band members — each looking back with her own version of the truth. The Go-Go’s were nothing if not dysfunctional, yet they somehow worked perfectly together even when tearing each other apart — a theme that is at the forefront of the documentary. “The Go-Go’s” is the kind of ‘80s nostalgia we need — a film that honestly captures a fleeting moment and a band that changed the pop landscape forever. 

“The Go-Go’s” will be released on Showtime. A release date has not yet been confirmed. 


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