In 1983, in the small town of Tacoma, a four piece band was put together by a group of people who just wanted to make music and that band was Girl Trouble. Thirty years later, Girl Trouble is still making music. "Strictly Sacred" explores the bands existence over the past three decades and their uncompromising DIY attitude.
Before getting into the review of "Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble", I feel the need to admit that music, in general, is not my forte. In fact, I'd go so far as to say my knowledge of music is so limited that I have a terrible taste in music. Not a top 10 songs of the week kind of terrible, but enough that music is an area where I tend to have little-to-no opinion. I'd probably be better off discussing theoretical physics (that's a goddamn lie -- I shouldn't discuss either one!).
Now that I have thoroughly discredited my own opinion of this fantastic documentary, "Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble" excels at what a good documentary can do: it maintains an interest in viewers who are unfamiliar with the subject (I had no idea who Girl Trouble was before this movie), and is able to expand beyond its own subject matter to highlight other things that are important.
"Strictly Sacred" is a documentary about a punk-rock band that formed in 1983 and has managed to not only keep going 30 years later, but has done so by remaining self-sufficient and completely independent. Featuring an extensive home video collection, "Strictly Sacred" looks at how the band began in Tacoma (Washington) with four people who had little musical experience but managed to come together and stay together for over three decades. Even when they were being snubbed out by their own record label and were being overshadowed by Seattle's grunge movement, Girl Trouble still marched forth to the beat of their own drum.
As I previously mentioned, I had no idea who Girl Trouble was before I watched "Strictly Sacred". Scoff at me if you must, but even with no prior knowledge I managed to find the journey of Kurt P. Kendall, Bon Von Wheelie, Kahuna and Dale Phillips as Girl Trouble to be utterly fascinating and even…inspiring. Now while I can never partake in a debate of who started punk and which bands qualify as punk, even I can understand the importance of what the punk movement was about. It was about independence and it was about doing it yourself -- whatever it is you wanted to, do it!
And regardless of what genre or sub-genre Girl Trouble's music may fall under, what they've done from the very beginning is exemplify that mindset and that determination. A majority of the members at the time of conception hadn't even played an instrument before but they still moved forward. Going from a band who was doing covers of The Cramps to a band that epitomizes the movement it was founded upon, and is still going. Lasting longer than other and more frequently cited bands to come of Washington. The reason Girl Trouble has lasted as long as they have and as influential as they are stems from the fact that they never lost their DIY spirit. They made their own flyers, put on their own concerts and even released their own music. How can anyone from an artistic medium, regardless of how they feel about the music, not find that inspirational?
What's truly amazing is how much footage exists of Girl Trouble. So much so, filmmaker Isaac Olsen's work of going through all of it and deciding what needed to go into "Strictly Sacred" is commendable, to say the least. It's a high point of the documentary as you genuinely get to see everything from how the band started, how they handled both the low and high points of their musical careers (going on an international tour to being involved in a lawsuit) to where they are now. It's exactly what you would want in a documentary of a band; instead of being a collection of people talking to the camera, trying to remember how things went down or doing an unsatisfactory job of describing environments or situations, you, the viewer, get to see it. You get to experience what it was like for them exploring Granny Go-Go's home and her importance of performing at Girl Trouble shows. You even get to see the small things, like Bon Von Wheelie running the printing press while making their zines. All of this footage, big and small, really brings the viewer into what it's been like for Girl Trouble.
Of course, with so much footage, how do you decide what to show and what not to? Again, this was all new to me so I appreciated everything that I was able to see in "Strictly Sacred". However, somethings are naturally going to be left out or else the documentary would turn into a mini-series. One thing I did notice is not much time is given to song writing process for the band. Not a bad thing for some, but it could be something that others wanted to see. It's one of those double-edged sword areas where the filmmaker(s) have to make the best call that they can. In this case, we get footage and fun anecdotes of practice sessions where The Babe (Bon Von Wheelie and Kahuna's mother) would come out to the shed and say, "It all sounds great but could you turn it down?" As opposed to how they wrote their songs or deciding what songs to perform, etc. Which, in all honesty, was more fun and entertaining for me.
I went into "Strictly Sacred: The Story of Girl Trouble" not knowing anything about the movie's subject matter but I walked away informed, entertained and having respect for a band that I didn't know existed before. "Strictly Sacred" offers everything that I think a person could want out of a music based documentary. Isaac Olsen not only deserves praise for the amount of work that went into what I can only imagine to be an overwhelming amount of footage of Girl Trouble's life from the past 30 years. But also because he managed to piece together a cohesive movie with new footage/inserts and interviews.
What I found truly exceptional about "Strictly Sacred" though is that, while it was fun and interesting getting to know Girl Trouble, the movie exists as remarkable celebration of the independent spirit and the importance of the DIY movement. I won't get into an argument of what kind of music Girl Trouble qualifies as (I'm sure I'd be wrong even if I did) because that's not what matters. It was a band that was born from punk (and rock 'n roll) and the idea or belief that came from that: if you want to do something, then do it. Don't ask for permission, don't stop to worry about the outcome, don't rely on anyone and don't let anyone or anything try and stop you. Do it and do it yourself! Girl Trouble did just that and it's why they've lasted as long as they have and why they are an inspiration to so many people, not just other musicians. That DIY philosophy and mindset can and should be applied to any artistic medium out there, especially filmmaking, and to me, that's what "Strictly Sacred" was truly about.