‘The Go-Gos’— A Conventional Documentary About an Unconventional Band

by Stephen Silver
Published: Last Updated on

The Go-Gos, the documentary about the 1980s New Wave/pop/punk band of the same name, is structured much like many other documentaries about bands of the past. 

The film, which debuted on Showtime over the weekend and remains streaming on its platform, features interviews with the members of the band, revisits their rise, their most famous and controversial moments, the internal feuds, the introduction of drugs, and eventually their breakup and fall. The template is probably 2013’s History of The Eagles, although versions of it had existed before. 

The director of History of The Eagles, Alison Ellwood, also directed The Go-Gos. And while the film is much shorter, and not as focused completely on the mutual loathing of the different band members as the Eagles’ film was, but it provides similar insight, about a group that many people below a certain age might not particularly remember much about (I’m in my early 40s, and nearly all of the Go-Gos’ success was before my time of paying attention to popular music, although I remember Belinda Carlisle’s solo career quite well.) 

The documentary pays a great deal of attention to the group’s musicianship, as they- like many other groups- started out in the punk scene but eventually embraced a more pop-oriented style, in a transition that included the jettisoning of original bass player  Margot Olavarria. 

The movie contains the music, the fashions, and plenty of old concert and video footage of the group whose hits included “We Got The Beat,” “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Vacation.” 

They were a rare all-female rock band at the time, the doc makes clear, who wrote their own songs, played their own instruments, and were not assembled or managed by a male svengali, something that kept them from being signed in the early days of their career. And in 1982, they became the first all-female group who met those conditions to have a #1 album. 

They also partied- a lot- and became notorious for it, especially a famous drunken appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1981. The film covers that, as well as keyboardist Charlotte Caffey’s heroin addiction and Gina Schock’s open-heart surgery. We see the circumstances of the group’s breakup, and their attempts at solo careers, in which only Carlisle was much of a success. And the group’s afterlife has consisted of a series of reunions, at least one lawsuit, and even a short-lived Broadway jukebox musical based on the Go-Gos’ song catalog. 

The film ends- surprise!- with a new reunion of the group, who recorded a new album that coincides with the documentary. And it also not-so-subtly makes the case for the band’s still-unrealized Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction. 

While not quite as ambitious as the same director’s Eagles documentary, The Go-Gos tells a story worth telling about a group with which many who don’t remember the ’80s are likely unfamiliar.

  • Stephen Silver

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