The Northwest Film Forum is featuring The Gits, a documentary about the pre-Grunge Seattle punk band, from July 4th to the 10th. Directed by Kerri O’Kane, the rock doc earned rave reviews at the 2005 Seattle International Film Festival. Now that the movie is being released on DVD, the Northwest Film Forum is giving you another chance to catch it on the big screen. Tickets are available here.
Still not convinced? Or just want to learn more? KEXP correspondent Chris Estey had a chance to review the movie:
KEXP Movie Review: The Gits
by Chris Estey
A documentary made by first time filmmaker Kerry O’Kane, The Gits is a sizzling, tight-as-a-drum, transcendent study of a woman’s incredible creativity, her insanely tragic death, and the way both have haunted and inspired so many for years afterwards. That woman is Mia Zapata, and you will never forget her after seeing the movie O’Kane spent more than a decade creating for her and her band, The Gits.
“It is time for The Gits’ influence to be felt, and for Mia’s influence to be felt,” LA Times critic (and Seattle music scene veteran) Ann Powers says about halfway through the film. “Because generations of artists like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Distillers are taking from Mia without knowing they’re taking from Mia.” As Tim Sommers, Atlantic Records A&R representative who was desperately trying to sign The Gits at the time of Zapata’s death, puts it: “Mia was doing something unique in 1993 and it’s unique today. This raw, pitch-brilliant blues singer singing as this charismatic frontwoman to this whilrwind band.” Andrew Kessler, Gits’ guitar player and Zapata’s cherished soul-mate song collaborator on such full-on bourbon and buzz-saw classics as “Here’s To Your Fuck” and “Second Skin” simply describes the band’s “mission” as “trying to put soul back into that kind of music.”
The Snivelling Little Rat Faced Gits (a line from a Monty Python skit) were made up of Zapata, Kessler, bassist Matt Dresdner, and drummer Steve Moriarty, all of whom were from Antioch College, a liberal arts university in Ohio that dispatched several dozen other transplants to Seattle during the pre-boom “grunge years.” Like many other romantic stories of artistic immigration, The Gits’ one is intrinsic to the psychogeography of Seattle: Forming the punk group home Rat House on 19th Avenue E. and E. Denny on Capitol Hill, not far from the Comet Tavern, where their band (now just known as The Gits) would play many of their incredibly influential shows. Influential in that they inspired people to adore the “chicken-legged” Zapata, a shy music fan with little black notebooks of lyrics who would blossom into a Kali-like jester-draped rock goddess on stage, and her band of East Coast-raised metallic punk boys. And on a personal level, The Gits fired up fellow aspiring musicians like Selene Vigil and Valerie Agnew, who started 7 Year Bitch in the Rat House basement and got quicker notice when the media went out of control with Seattle music scene coverage of the early 90s.
But Agnew and Vigil give much love back to Zapata and the band in this documentary, and one never has the feeling that anyone resented anybody else through that chaotic period. As observers of the time like Eric Greenwalt noted, The Gits “were the shit. They brought something else to the table that no one else had.” Their exceptional passion can be heard on the first release, a compilation called “Bobbing For Pavement” that also featured friends, contemporaries, and fellow front porch drinkers DC Beggars, The Derelicts, Hammerbox, and others. And The Gits incendiary punk-blues legacy is preserved as living art through the band’s only official studio album, “Frenching The Bully” (C/Z Records, 1992) and an outstanding posthumous collection “Enter: The Conquering Chicken” (C/Z, 1994). Zapata used her personal torment as artistic revolution, her joyful activist spirit channeled into everything from hanging out with the homeless to licking the faces of her friends when she was happy.
The documentary contains tons of great rare footage of the band playing passionately everywhere from the OK Hotel to the Off Ramp and even opening for Bratmobile at the Jabber Jaw in Los Angeles. (Horribly, it would be mere days before Zapata’s body was found, at 100 E. Yesler Way and 24 Avenue S. — just a mile and a half from The Comet.) “The Gits” describes the dark paranoia that settled into the scene after Zapata’s murder, when (as Vigil puts it) “you don’t know anything about the guy looking at you down the bar.” Which makes the glorious footage of the band rocking out so hard and so high that much more precious.
“The Gits” also includes a soul-deep assortment of interviews with comrades and admirers who earnestly extrapolate about their fears and doubts throughout open worship of Zapata’s work. As most of these casual but very eloquent observations and histories were filmed before Jesus C. Mezquia was arrested and sentenced for the brutal slaying of Zapata in 2003, it perfectly expresses the sadness, anger, and pain before the predator’s capture that makes viewing The Gits an often uncomfortable experience. But as the filmmakers say on the incredibly informative and helpful commentary on the DVD, “The legacy shouldn’t be about [Zapata’s] murder but the music [The Gits] made.”
The small details of honor and respect to Mia Zapata, from the yellow roses (her favorite) throngs of people brought to her wake, to her father’s tearful explanation of Mia being a “gift to us all,” is enough to make this essential viewing for any of her fans. But beyond that, this is a rock doc that kicks amazing amounts of ass. Yes, its grand history and performances effectively quell any lingering depression that might occur in dealing with this subject matter — as is the knowledge of imminent justice about Zapata’s death, and the rise of women’s defense organization Home Alive! The nationwide non-profit collective began from the unnecessary death of a woman everyone seemed to love so deeply, and one of its members decided to make this film — for herself, for the rest of us, and best of all, in memory of Mia Zapata.
The Gits movie trailer