DVD Review: ‘Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour’ Champions Grrrl Power

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CHICAGO – As far as punk rock electroclash bands go, concertgoers would be hard pressed to find one as vibrant, charismatic and thrillingly alive as Le Tigre. It’s a band that I had no knowledge of prior to viewing this documentary, and though the film itself is a rather unexceptional tour video, it has made me an instant fan of the group, whose witty and catchy rhythms are simply irresistible.

Comprised of former “Bikini Kill” vocalist Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman and Jocelyn “JD” Samson, Le Tigre is entrenched in the feminist politics and DIY aesthetics of the “riot grrrl movement” that came to fruition in the early ’90s. Their work promotes both female empowerment and LGBT equality, while their performance style is both playful and impassioned. A series of well-edited concert montages effectively convey their onstage exuberance, but there’s little in the offstage footage that’s of much substance.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 3.0/5.0
DVD Rating: 3.0/5.0

At a slight 72 minutes, “Who Took the Bomp?” mainly consists of cinematographers Carmine Covell and Paul Kloss following their subjects on a 2004 tour for their album “The Island” (the band performed its last public concert a year later, and is currently on hiatus). Though the picture doesn’t aspire to be a polemic on the level of Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck’s excellent Dixie Chicks documentary, “Shut Up & Sing,” it never develops a personality of its own. Director Kerthy Fix captures few intimate moments with the band mates, who spend most of their screen time mugging for the cameras. It’s certainly pleasant hanging out with this group, but it’s a shame the filmmakers couldn’t get further under the surface of their personas.

Jocelyn Samson, Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman star in Kerthy Fix’s Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour.
Jocelyn Samson, Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman star in Kerthy Fix’s Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour.
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Only when Jane Magazine refuses to put the word “lesbian” on a promotion for the band does the film become something more than a standard celebrity portrait. In a single reaction shot, we see Samson convey a subdued disappointment that speaks volumes about her inner drive to champion tolerance through her work. Samson’s boyish features attract audience members of all genders and orientations, and she admits that the audience’s embrace has furthered public acceptance of her sexuality. Her song “Viz” is a deeply personal exploration of her life as a minority, and it emerges as one of the film’s highlights (Samson’s iconic status would make her an ideal singular subject for a documentary).

The best reason to see “Bomp” is the footage of the performers in action, and their seemingly effortless connection with audiences. One beguiling fan in Indianapolis thanks the band for spreading their message throughout the nation. The band’s catchiest tune is “Hot Topic,” a splendid number that honors a series of inspirational female artists and feminist heroes, such as Aretha Franklin and Billy Tipton. There’s a looseness and spontaneity to their work that’s totally infectious, but the band mates claim that many critics have been harsh judges. They feel their music has been criticized more harshly than the work of similar male bands, which perhaps may be a subject worth debating, yet there’s no denying the truth in their statement that ‘if male punk rockers can go onstage not knowing what they’re doing, why can’t we?’

Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour was released on DVD on June 7, 2011.
Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour was released on DVD on June 7, 2011.
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Laboratories

“Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour” is presented in its 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and comes enclosed in spectacularly colorful and vividly illustrated packaging by Anna Higgie. The disc includes seven additional performances of songs including “After Dark,” “Mediocrity Rules,” “Seconds,” “Well Well Well,” “Punker Plus,” “What’s Yr Take on Cassavetes” (misogynist? genius?) and my personal favorite, “Nanny Nanny Boo Boo.” Two brief outtakes are no more or less vital than the majority of scenes left in the film: JD becomes moved while reading a note from a supportive fan, while Jo disagrees with the tagline for her upcoming PETA ad featuring her pet rabbit. The most disappointing extra is a 22-minute extended concert tape of a performance in Vienna, Austria. Though the recording will certainly be of interest to fans, it’s marred by awful sound quality that renders the voices unintelligible. Chicago viewers may be particularly amused by a brief 2001 interview Le Tigre gave to squeaky-voiced hand puppet Rattina, co-host of the Windy City’s cable access children’s show, “Chi-A-Go-Go.”
Contrary to the special features list on the box, which indicates the inclusion of “video commentary” with the band, there is no feature-length commentary to be found on the disc. Instead, there’s a recent 28-minute interview with Le Tigre in which they briefly comment on a few clips from the film, while mainly reminiscing about their time together. It’s a thoroughly entertaining half hour that provides greater insight into the band itself. The women candidly discuss their hypersensitivity toward discriminatory behavior committed by everyone from creepy DJs to queer-negative promoters. Hanna opens up about her reasons for leaving the band, which included the gradual damaging of her vocal chords, and her worries that she was starting to resemble a “feminist Barney.” Regardless of her reasons, this interview proves that the grrrls’ chemistry is as engaging as ever.

‘Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour’ is released by Oscilloscope Laboratories and features Kathleen Hanna, Johanna Fateman and Jocelyn Samson. It was directed by Kerthy Fix. It was released on June 7, 2011. It is not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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