Review of “Rise Above”

The Tribe 8 performances are riveting. The band joyfully mocks male rock behavior and gives us new ideas about gender-bending and male dominance. The band members take off their shirts when they are hot, dangle cigarettes out of their mouths and show off their dildos.

Yet underneath the performance art antics, there is a serious message. Onstage, Breedlove puts straight men in submissive sexual positions, dismantling traditional notions of which gender should be on top.

In our culture, we are bombarded with images of female musicians whose performances and demeanors underscore the idea that women's sexual power comes from pleasing men. Tribe 8 offers a new image of what a female sex symbol can be. There are no Barbies onstage at a Tribe 8 concert. It is rare — and frankly, it is important — to watch women who are powerful and completely willing to take up space by dominating the stage.

In 1994, the band performed at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, long a bastion of lesbian feminism. Many festival-goers protested their performance, accusing the band of perpetuating abuse by imitating men. Yet the women in Tribe 8 speak of and allude to their own or their partners' sexual abuse or rape. By venting their rage — while at the same time leavening it with a dose of humor — Tribe 8 seems to avenge all women who have been sexually abused.

The most frustrating aspect of watching Rise Above is the lack of subtitles for all of the songs. The harsh, punk singing style makes most of the songs impossible to understand, but the few songs that have subtitles provide insight into the unique humor and pathos Tribe 8 is willing to express publicly.

The film was made on a very low budget, on 16 mm film, and the soundtrack is a bit uneven. Despite that fact, it is completely gripping. Through skillful editing, a sense of tension is sustained throughout the film, and it is impossible not to be drawn into this original and gutsy group of women.

Individually and collectively, Tribe 8 developed some mainstream fame despite their queercore roots. The band received press in Rolling Stone and Spin, and several members went on to other successful creative projects. Silas Howard co-directed, co-wrote and co-starred in By Hook or By Crook, which screened at Sundance in 2001. Breedlove's first novel, Godspeed, about a San Francisco bike messenger (and dyke), was published by St. Martin's in 2002.

Rise Above has won several awards, including the Jury Award for Best Documentary at Frameline in 2003, the Emerging Talent Award at Outfest in 2003, and the Audience Award at the 2003 Hamburg G/L Film Festival. Tracy Flannigan was named Best Female Director at the 2003 Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.

The most miraculous part of this film is the fact that the members of Tribe 8 found each other in the first place, and created such a tight-knit, supportive community. Rise Above is an inspiring documentary about the power of outsiders who refuse to compromise their ideals and are able to give voice — loudly — to their creativity.

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