Release Date: 07.08.08
Directed by Kerri O'Kane
Produced by Jessica Bender
Piecing together a documentary about an ultimately tragic rock band at the epicenter of an exploding, culture shifting music scene can make for a very dicey situation. The filmmaker could glorify the scene around said tragic band while at the same time shutting out the actual subject. Or, they can focus too much on the ominous aspects of the group's collapse and not enough on the great music the band gave to the world.
It seems that far too often the music is cast as a footnote in favor of a "Behind The Music" style film; The Gits, a documentary by Kerri O'Kane, does not cast the bands art in this light. No, the music is the star here, it is the story - not the devastating murder of front woman Mia Zapata - and this approach makes it one of the top rock documentaries available. It is the best film about the greatest band you've probably never heard of.
The Gits' complete history is here, squeezed into 81 minutes. There is early footage of the band's embryonic performances at Ohio's Antioch College in 1986 to a crowds of literally fifteen people; their decision to move to Seattle just as bands like Green River, Nirvana, Tad, Soundgarden and Mudhoney were poised to make "The Emerald City" catch fire musically.
What separated The Gits from the hard rock boys club was a bluesy voiced, punk rock intellectual rumored to be a descendent of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. As I watched the footage of old performances, it became glaringly obvious that Mia not only commanded the stage, she owned it. She was the new Janis Joplin, power personified, a major star. It was this presence paired with Mia's accessibility that made her a fan favorite. The Sub Pop bands of that time get all the press but The Gits had basically nothing to do with that; they were not a grunge band. If one must put the Gits in a category, they would be listed under beautifully raw fuck-you punk.
Interviews with Gits members Andrew "Joe Spleen" Kessler, Steve Moriarty and Matt Dresdner help paint a picture of Seattle and their community; The Gits' house and practice space, loving named "The Rathouse," was instrumental in the conception and growth of other area bands including: 7 Year Bitch and The D.C. Beggars. Carla Sindle, vocalist supreme of The D.C. Beggars, spoke lovingly of the house named for vermin. "There was beer dripping off the walls, people were breaking things, it was rowdy. It was punk rock. It was fun."
Many artists are woven into this film to show how much people loved Mia and the music of the Gits. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill spoke of Mia's undeniable influence on the Seattle scene and women in general, Joan Jett, who formed Evil Stig (Gits Live spelled backwards) with the surviving members of The Gits to raise money to find Mia's killer, at one point had to look away from the camera because she was so emotional. Valerie Agnew and Selene Vigil of 7 Year Bitch spoke of how Mia helped them make it through when they lost band mate Stephanie Sargent to a heroin overdose in 1992. And Mia's father, Richard Zapata, said something that would bring a tear to any father's eye, "Mia was my baby. She was only on loan to me."
Andrew Kessler remembers bribing the owner of then influential rock club The Vogue with a dollar bill so the Gits could play there; it was their first Seattle show. After that, things really took off. "We had growing crowds at our shows. Mia was aggressive but accessible, we were a band of the people." At one particularly moving moment in the film, Andrew says, with a far away look and the beginnings of a tear that "Mia was my soul mate. We were never a couple but she was my musical soul mate. I'll never find that again."
On July 7th, 1993 after having some drinks with some friends, including 7 Year Bitch drummer Valerie Agnew, Mia left The Comet, a favorite hangout, and wasn't seen again until a passerby found her discarded body in the middle of a side street. She had been raped, strangled and murdered.
Mia Zapata was only 27 years old.
No information surfaced on the murder, no killer found until a full decade later. Through DNA testing, Jesus C. Mezquia was arrested and charged in 2003 with Zapata's murder. On March 25th, 2004, Mezquia was convicted of murder and sentenced to thirty-six years, ten years more than the standard sentence. Steve Moriarty said of Mezquia, "I pitied this guy because I hated him so much."
Though she is gone from this world, Mia's mark is branded on music forever. In 1994, The Gits' Enter: The Conquering Chicken was released posthumously and in 1996, behind songs like "Seaweed", "Cut My Skin It Makes Me Human", "Another Shot of Whiskey" and the rapid fire "Here's To Your Fuck", Mia was voted the greatest female punk singer ever. The first ever Gits Anthology, The Best of The Gits was released as a near soundtrack to the film and re-issues of the band's catalogue are currently being planned. It could even be argued that bands like The Detroit Cobras, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Grand Old Party all take from Mia and The Gits as a whole whether they realize it or not. Other artists tend to borrow from great bands and The Gits definitely were a great band.
Kerri O'Kane's The Gits is a must view for any fan of punk, rock, soul or fans of really well-done documentary art. The film nearly captures the soulful power of the band and the love they shared for one another and their fans. The Gits are a band that all rock or punk fans should check out. That way, Mia is always alive, always on a stage, always breaking down walls.
Punk is not a man only sport. Mia Zapata proved this through her music and her life. Long Live Punk, Long Live The Gits and VIVA ZAPATA!
The Gits screening dates
09.26.08 - Chicago, IL (Decibelle Music & Culture Fest)
09.27.08 - Chicago, IL (Decibelle Music & Culture Fest)
10.04.08 - San Diego, CA (The 6th Annual San Diego Women's Film Fest)
10.23.08 - Los Angeles, CA (Cinematheque's Egyption Theatre In Hollaywood)
10.30.08 - Minneapolis, MN (Sound Unseen)
11.07.08 - Honolulu, HI (Girl Fest Hawaii)