WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER! | SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL

This year we will be covering the SUFF – SYDNEY UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL for the first time and we are already having a ball. The Sydney Underground Film Festival is dedicated to nurturing an alternative film culture through the promotion of independent and experimental films. The festival seeks to support filmmakers (especially those who operate outside established film industry infrastructures) by providing a platform for exhibition, exposure and critical discussion. It will be running from September 17th to 20th at The Factory Theatre in Marrickville and is showcasing some EPIC independent content. You can check out the festival schedule and buy tickets from HERE and you can stalk them on Facebook HERE.

To follow on from our first review from the festival, THEY LOOK LIKE PEOPLE, we have a music documentary, WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER. Another quality film with another high score. We got our music loving movie reviewer, Kernel Andrew Brusentsev to review this one. Special thanks to the peeps at Kabuku PR for getting us involved in what will be a spectacular discovery of movies.

 

WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER MOVIE POSTER IMAGE
WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | MOVIE POSTER IMAGE

 

BY ANDREW BRUSENTSEV

For anyone that is a fan of rock music, especially the Bowie / Lou Reed inspired glitter rock period of the late 70’s early 80’s, WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER is for you.

Most (myself included) will only really be familiar with the band because of their classic “Stay Hungry” album, and their constant appearances as early sweethearts of MTV clip shows. But unbeknownst to many, this band, originally hailing from the Long Island area, were playing to packed rooms of thousands, a decade before this. As is stated by a bemused TV host before their breakout performance on the English TV show The Tube “They look like women. They play like men. They are the biggest bunch of hell-raisers to come out of the States” and how right she is. This documentary will cement Sisters’ reputation as one of the hardest working and intense live acts to come out of New York during the late 70s and early 80s

WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER! is directed by Andrew Horn. It is a jovial, sometimes hilarious, and at other times heart breaking story of rock ‘n’ roll excess, egotism and absurdity. It is also absolutely riveting for the music or documentary fan. The interviewees are all comfortable in front of the camera and their tales of the rise of Twisted Sister is incredibly enjoyable. What is great to see is that guitarist Jay Jay French and his arch rival and band mate, lead singer Dee Snider, have a very well-developed sense of their own absolute ridiculousness. They are also very smart men.

The movie starts in 1972 when Jay Jay first hears the majesty of Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, of course David Bowie. Jay Jay is entranced and captivated by what he sees. Whilst he loved the New York Dolls, “god they dressed amazing” he exclaims, he also laments the fact that they “sucked” at playing their instruments. French vows to put together a band playing intense rock n roll with the same theatricality. A glitter band with balls of steel.

 

Group Portrait Of Twisted Sister
WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | BAND IMAGE

 

French’s ultimate ambition was to get a band together and then quickly get a record deal. This reality kind of never eventuated. But we as movie goers should be thankful. The reality was that Twister Sister upon formation was about to spend a decade plus playing in bars and halls. It may have been thousands of people a week but most outside of the NY Boroughs never heard of them. And if they did they were viewed as a joke and pariahs by the music industry in general. By the early 80’s they were drawing crowds the likes of which most “signed” artists would be envious of. In its heyday, the band performed up to four shows a night, six nights a week pulling some weeks $20,000, which is serious money even by today’s standards.

The documentary takes us back and recounts their start, performing in giant Long Island bowling alleys to audiences of hundreds – and sometimes thousands. From their inception they were a dangerous finely honed rock ‘n’ roll outfit. Yes they may have stolen their girlfriends and mothers’ clothes, yes they wore pink negligées, red lipstick, hot pants and yes they may have worn thigh-high leather boots. But they were not a band to be fucked with. With each passing month their audiences grew and grew. The band started making a very comfortable living on the circuit all the while hoping for a big break. They weren’t punk or new wave so even without their status as pariahs no record label had any idea what to do with them.

One of the ultimate ironies of Twisted Sister is that although the band had this image as rock ‘n’ roll hedonists (Horn mixes in a plethora of footage from shows to prove this point) both Snider and French didn’t drink or take drugs. In fact a part of the documentary devotes itself to describing the antics of former members who during the early years fell off stage, passed out playing and generally derailing the ambition of the competitive Snider and French.

 

Group Portrait Of Twisted Sister
WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | BAND IMAGE

 

The band became even more famous in the late 70’s when they declared a war on disco and started hanging effigies of Barry White at their concerts. This they stopped after a particularly awful incident. Rednecks in a rural town in upstate New York thought they were racist and became among their most enthusiastic champions. Jay Jay French and Snider were both sickened. “We had not a prejudiced bone in our body,” French says. You can see the pain and his utter disgust at seeing the band commandeered in that way even to this day.

In fact their shows became so notorious by the late 70s that the band’s followers were known for utterly destroying a nightclub. Some venue owners who hated their landlords actually hired Twisted Sister knowing full well the venue would be totaled. Walls were dismantled, the urinals ripped out and appliances carted off. This further solidified their growing reputation.

“The thing that raises them above the level of Spinal Tap is that they are all really smart,” said director Horn in an interview. “They know what is going on. They know what they are doing and they know what their effect on the audience is – and they play with this idea of being the rock band that gets stoned all the time and gets drunk and all of that. For them, it was a complete lie. They spent so much time and energy just doing what they do that they couldn’t have functioned if they had been a band like that.”

This history came as a complete shock to me. I had no idea of their many years of purgatory, toiling away is the Long Island bar scene without a record deal. They never made it anywhere near even Manhattan until their new manager finally signed them up to appear at the Palladium. What should have been the biggest gig of their career had to be cancelled when a band member fell ill. When it was rescheduled, no record company bosses appeared and they still didn’t get signed. What is even more ironic was that when Sister did a free concert to boost their flagging fortunes they attracted 23,000 people – an astonishing number for a band that still didn’t have a record deal.

 

TWISTED SISTER PERFORMING IMAGE
WE ARE TWISTED FUCKING SISTER | SALTY POPCORN MOVIE REVIEW | BAND PERFORMING IMAGE

 

It was only when a loyal fan of theirs started exporting their music to England that they finally started to get the accolades they deserved. Sound magazine highlighted them as one of the best rock bands in the World and working of this success the band came to Britain in the early 80s. With champions far away from New York they finally started to see success. Playing a now famous gig with Motorhead (the legendary Lemmy was a huge fan) and then the Reading Festival where they were able to turn hostile crowds (some even throwing human feces at them) into fans in the course of one set.

Horn’s documentary is full of interviews with managers, promoters and bar owners most of who look like made men from the Gambino crime syndicate. All of them have nothing but admiration and praise for the band.

Although their inevitable success also saw the beginning of the end we do not need to feel too sorry for French and Snider. Although they may not have had the success that they in their own minds dreamed about they still had more than most. On stage, they were given the opportunity to behave like demented adolescents in drag every night for year after year, they also (unlike many signed recording artists) made a lot of money doing so. Twisted Sister had this everyman quality that other bands lacked and that is so hard to fake. Their audiences identified with them all the more because they couldn’t get a record deal, they were the ultimate battlers. A band that could rightfully claim to be one of the hardest rocking bands on the planet.

I have new found respect for Twisted Sister’s no holds barred, pedal to the metal commitment to old-fashioned kick ass rock ‘n’ roll. I now wish I had of seen them in some small club, they would have been something else.

My only fault with the documentary is that it is over-long and really goes down the rabbit hole with minutiae. That being said Horn does an excellent job of making a quality rock documentary.

 

4 Pops

 

 

When asked what is good in life? Kernel Andrew will tell you film, music and beer is all you need. Equal parts Star Wars fanboy, sci-fi nerd, horror head, comic book tragic and Playstation fanatic. You can find him ranting on these things and others on his twitter feed @abrusentsev