The Go-Go’s

Along with all the candidates who want your vote in November, there’s another group that’s campaigning this year: The Go-Go’s, the all-girl rock band, wants to be elected to the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. The new documentary film The Go-Go’s makes that point perfectly clear and may well serve to earn them serious consideration.

The film, like many such retrospectives, has plenty of archival “back in the day” footage but the contemporary comments from the individual group members are sharper in tone and more candid than one might expect. Not only do the Go-Go’s talk about their drug use, the film shows them consuming.

The Go-Go’s, whose hit songs are mainly bouncy pop, began in the L.A. punk scene. As the band evolved they transitioned away from the edgier music. A road trip to England where they opened shows for a couple of ska bands provided a bonding experience and gave them confidence to win over challenging audiences.

(Although the film does not make the reference, that trip reminded me of the stories of the time the Beatles spent in Hamburg, Germany in the early 60’s shortly before they broke worldwide.)

Along with those candid comments from the five core women of the band, director Alison Ellwood includes sound bites from women who were fired from the band, the band’s original manager, record company folks, some of those ska musicians and entertainment reporter Chris Connelly.

The Go-Go’s career trajectory paralleled that of MTV. They provided eye candy for the channel, which was a key factor in their ascent. Group members recall not thinking the video for the song Our Lips Are Sealed was that important but later realizing that it was a vital part of their development. As were the Rolling Stone magazine covers. (Remember MTV’s Martha Quinn? She gets a bit of face time to offer her takes on the band.)

Interestingly, lead singer Belinda Carlisle, who was, in my opinion, the prettiest of the group when they were making hit records, has not aged as well as the others. Belinda is still attractive but she has that Priscilla Presley “too much plastic surgery” look.

How important are the Go-Go’s in the history of pop music? Well, they were the first and only all-female band to have the number one album on the Billboard chart. But personal rivalries and jealousies, not to mention drug use, caused the band to break up just a few years after their big debut.

Is that singular chart achievement negated by their lack of career longevity? I think you could argue that either way. But when you scroll thru the list of 230 something performers in the Rock Hall, it would appear that the Go-Go’s qualify for inclusion.

Presuming this film will be seen by Rock Hall gatekeepers, expect them to make it. Soon.

An American Pickle

Where’s the line between “heartwarming” and “sappy?” Hard to say. One person’s “tender, sweet, sentimental” is another’s person’s “sickeningly mushy and syrupy.”

An American Pickle starring Seth Rogen hits the right heartwarming notes without going over the line. It’s the story of an East European Jew who immigrates to America, spends a century in a sort of suspended animation and comes back to life in our new and strange modern time.

The movie is funny but not laugh-a-minute funny. The movie is sweet but not quite Hallmark sweet.

A couple of decades into the 1900’s, Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen) falls into a vat of pickles, just as the Brooklyn pickle factory he works for is being condemned. The vat is sealed and sits undisturbed until a hundred years later when it is opened and there is Herschel, perfectly preserved in the salty brine.

In short order he is introduced to his great grandson Ben (also Seth Rogen), Herschel’s only surviving descendant. They bond but soon find fault with one another. Herschel’s Old World ways get them both arrested for assault and the criminal record results in Ben’s being turned downed for money to market the app he’s spent years developing.

Herschel, who initially stays with Ben, moves out and begins to brine cucumbers into pickles. He sells them from a sidewalk cart and becomes a social media sensation. Ben then schemes to sabotage his great grandfather’s success. Their relationship suffers a number of ups and downs until things are resolved.

Herschel has a full beard and wears vintage clothing. Ben is not quite clean-shaven—he has a bit of facial fuzz—and wears modern casual attire. There is a case of confused identity that is key to the storyline.

Rogen does a great job of playing opposite himself. For most scenes, each actor’s lines are shot separately and spliced together. But some have the two men onscreen at the same time. Actors who’ve done this in the past have spoken of the difficulty of getting the timing and the responses right when playing against a phantom whose parts will be included later. Rogan makes those scenes work just fine.

An American Pickle is a pleasant amusement. The likable Rogen, now just a couple of years shy of 40, continues to expand the scope of characters he plays well beyond the drugged-out goofball types he was earlier known for playing. The film is currently streaming exclusively on HBOMax. I would not be surprised to see it available on HBO on cable within a few weeks.

The Swamp

The new HBO documentary The Swamp has a big surprise: the filmmakers treat Republican congressmen with respect! Where’s the snark? Where’s a narrator sighing a putdown of Florida representative Matt Gaetz, a young firebrand and Trump loyalist? It’s not there!

Gaetz gets the most facetime in this film but Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie and Colorado rep Ken Buck, both Republicans, are also profiled.

The gist of the show is that these guys and a few allies on the Democrat side of the aisle are in D.C. to shake things up and reform the way things are done at the Capitol, especially in terms of fundraising.

Massie defies a GOP stereotype in that he is a fierce environmentalist who drives a Tesla and has a home in Kentucky that gets all its energy from renewable sources. He partners with longtime Democrat congresswoman Barbara Lee in working to rescind the authorization to use military force which Congress gave the president in the wake of 9/11.

Massie also takes the camera crew to the front door of the Republican National Congressional Committee building where, he says, he does not want to depend on that group for campaign money.

Representatives Ro Khanna (D-California) and Matt Gaetz (R-Florida)

Gaetz is seen buddying around with California Democrat Ro Khanna. Gaetz good-naturedly teases Khanna about representing Silicon Valley but not wearing an Apple Watch.

Gaetz also defends former California Democrat representative Katie Hill who resigned after nude photos of her were posted online. He speaks out against her ex’s “revenge porn.” The two are seen sharing a friendly dinner at a D.C. Italian restaurant.

An important contributor to the topic of congressional reform is Lawrence Lessig of Harvard Law School who offers historical perspective and thoughts on how things should change. Lessig blames former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for igniting Congress’s current obsession with fundraising.

My guess is that The Swamp will be summarily dismissed by some liberal viewers because of the way it treats its Republican subjects. Not exactly an adoring portrayal of Gaetz and company but a relatively even-handed approach. To such individuals who themselves often preach tolerance, I’d suggest you try to tolerate this film. You may hate it—especially Gaetz’s fawning phone calls to Trump—but you may also find a nugget or two of enlightenment about the way Congress works.

The Swamp, co-directed by Daniel DeMauro and Morgan Pehme who collaborated on the 2017 Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone, is currently being shown on HBO and is streaming via HBOMax.