Friday, March 18, 2016

Groupies (1970)

          Shot in a grungy, fly-on-the-wall style, the rock doc Groupies contains ample evidence of a subculture that has existed almost as long as rock music, that of compliant young women who offer sex in exchange for access to famous players. Some of the ladies captured on film by directors Ron Dorfman and Peter Nevard even gained notoriety of their own. These women include Pamela Des Barres, then known as “Miss Pamela,” who later wrote the definitive groupie memoir, I’m With the Band, as well as the “Plaster Casters,” who immortalized their trysts by making plaster impressions of men’s, ahem, instruments. For the curious, some of the casts are displayed onscreen, though no identifying text is provided.
          In fact, no identifying text is provided for anyone or anything in Groupies, and neither does the film include narration. As such, Groupies unfolds like a stream of disassociated raw footage. Except for shots of familiar musicians, including Joe Cocker and Ten Years After, it’s a mystery who is onscreen at any given time. This lack of information is among the chief reasons why Groupies is a minor historical artifact and nothing more. That said, Groupies tells a story despite the filmmakers’ best efforts to avoid doing so.
          In some vignettes, random women hang out with musicians, trying to one-up each other with outrageous behavior and/or proclamations of sexual availability; all the while, amused musicians watch the spectacle content in the knowledge that they’re getting laid once all the chitty-chat runs its course. Other scenes feature the groupies trying to explain their lifestyles. To a one, the justifications provided in Groupies are pathetic and vapid, so it often seems as if the filmmakers deliberately chose participants who came across as drunk, horny, loud, stoned, or stupid, if not all of the above. Is Groupies a celebration of sexual freedom or a condemnation of misguided young women? Either way, the doc destroys any romantic notions one might have about the groupie scene.
          Oddly, some of the film’s most interesting passages veer slightly off-topic. Sequences featuring male groupies—in San Francisco, naturally—are quite grim. A long scene of a drunk male groupie trying in vain to score with British singer Terry Reid is a symphony of weeping and whining leavened only by the erudite sarcasm of Reid’s drummer. Perhaps Groupies is best summarized by one participant’s introspective remarks: “I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Wow, you fucking whore, what are you into?’” 

Groupies: FUNKY

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