Dick Hebdige marks the beginning of “punk” as we know it today in the year of 1976 when a young girl was almost blinded by a flying beer glass at the 100 Club in Soho. Hebdige singles this incident out because in his mind it served as the catalyst for what he terms “the mass moral panic” that first drew critical attention to “punk”. What does this have to do with Kevin Hegge’s documentary film She Said Boom (2013)? Defining and understanding the political origins of “punk” will enlighten one to the motives behind the band The Fifth Column; the subject of Hegge’s film. To explain why “punk” became such an enduring and influential cultural movement one need only apply the very definition of “fifth column”. Consider, as the members of The Fifth Column did in their native Toronto, that the “enemy of their country” is not a terrorist nor a corrupt politician necessarily, but rather concepts and ideas that are in conflict with the traditionally accepted modes of thinking in Western civilization today.
The Fifth Column cannot be labeled “punk” however, even if their music fits within the mechanics of punk music. The Fifth Column, like Crass before them (though to a lesser extent), utilized an array of media beyond music such as film to give a voice not only to women, but homosexuals. Before Pansy Division or Bikini Kill there was The Fifth Column, and their influence on both demographics has been monumental.
This is what Hegge’s film She Said Boom works very hard to communicate. By interviewing members of the band, their contemporaries, and their successors Hegge is able to contextualize The Fifth Column not just musically, but sociologically. That The Fifth Column was so successful in their aesthetic fusion of punk music and film in giving voice to Toronto’s subculture tempts critics to draw a comparison between them and Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Yet Hegge’s ignores this comparison wisely. Primarily, one must assume, because at this point not only is a comparison with The Velvet Underground a cliché, but Hegge would be indicating a duplicate social structure of oppression at work in both New York of the mid-1960s and Toronto in the 1980s. Admittedly there are similarities, but a comparison of this nature would negate the principal instigating factors at work in propelling The Fifth Column beyond the circuit of your “run of the mill” garage band. Thus, Hegge is very successful in his portrait of The Fifth Column, their work, and their legacy.
She Said Boom is very liberal in its appropriation of footage of The Fifth Column members from their films and the films of their associates (Caroline Azar, Beverly Breckenridge, GB Jones and Bruce la Bruce). Though this footage is compelling in how vividly it renders a time, a place, and an aesthetic, the very employment of footage in this way has become a tactic so often used by documentary filmmakers that it is becoming tiresome. Between Andrew Solt’s Imagine: John Lennon (1988) and Don Letts’ Westway To The World (2000) this tactic was not nearly as prevalent. However, Westway The World‘s syndication on MTV and VH1 over the following years have helped engrain this device into the very mechanics of what is popularly referred to as the “Rock-Doc”. And this is a shame because of all the documentaries that utilize this tactic to this end She Said Boom has had some of the best archives of footage to pull from.