This is going to be one of those reviews where we try not to be so wordy but end up with a novel on our hands so we’d like to offer our sincere apologies in advance for what you’re about to read. But not really because what filmmaker Dave Habeeb has created with Beautiful Was The Fight is a brilliant look at the Boston Music Scene through the eyes of the mighty women who have struggled, shined, and worked to ensure a more progressive and inclusive atmosphere for the next generation.
Beginning with a pensive piano line and that Amanda Palmer quote seen in the initial trailer (Palmer-approved following an early showing for the Dresden Dolls artist), Beautiful Was The Fight starts with a bevy of montages showing familiar locales, familiar venues, and maybe some familiar faces in the Boston scene offering a preview of what’s in store with quotes like “I think the music that comes out of it sounds like it’s from Boston. There’s somewhat of a stamp on the music that comes out of the city. It’s a little rougher.” and “Women are driving Boston music right now.” setting the stage for Habeeb’s (Director of Photography, Editor, Producer, Director) vision.
Once BWTF does start following that set-up, that vision is wonderfully displayed in full color and succeeds by not focusing on just one story or perspective but ALL of them combined in one cohesive story that collectively shares the highs and lows of each artist showcased. And what a group of artists highlighted here! The range of genres covered here alone is something that other documentarians should take note of with Habeeb assembling not only a veritable who’s who of the women in the Boston Music Scene but also a vast sonic spectrum of Pop, Hip-Hop, R&B, Jazz, Alternative, Folk, and everything in between to the extent that along with a fresh new perspective on the scene, we’d be surprised if you didn’t come away from the film with a new favorite artist or two or three or four as well (We know we did!). If you thought that Boston was only all about the Rawk then prepare to be astounded!
Utilizing interviews and performance footage, Habeeb weaves a tale that’s as much about the triumphs of women in the community as it is the troubles. There’s the ever present independent venue issue that’s a constant issue and even more so in this case with the closings of Johnny D’s and TT The Bear’s in recent years leaving JJ Gonson alone with ONCE in Somerville as the last female-owned independent venue in the area. That leads to a shared consensus throughout that while Boston can be a very supportive community, some artists find there’s a cap and that you can only go so far in town to prove yourself and then go somewhere else to actually make it. Labels, booking agents, and infrastructure are just some of the issues shared while other artists commented that different aspects of the city (Colleges! SPORTS!) take the focus away from the music to an extent.
Then there’s the more specific issues that the women of the community continually face with Ruby Rose Fox (Editor’s note: The title of the film comes from the lyrics for “O’Roy”), Jen Kearney, Sarah Blacker, Mint Green’s Ronnica, Red Shaydez, and many others offering tales of sexism, bullying, discrimination based on race and sexuality, and more that they’ve faced in different stages of their respective careers. Carissa Johnson elaborates on the roles women are forced into with the generally non-confrontational Johnson having to become a protector to fellow friends and bandmates when it comes to general harassment and beyond. Later on, deSirene mentions the constant struggle with not only labels but also with peers to earn respect while Hayley Jane (Hayley Jane And The Primates) talks on the abundance of suggestive messages received through social media that can just completely tarnish any positive feedback.
But even still, there is hope for the future. And BWTF shows that a strong support system with allies like Jenny Bergman (Owner/Creative Director, The Secret Bureau of Sound + Design), photographers like Coleman Rogers and Nicole Tammaro, concert producers like Vickie Van Ness & Peter Van Ness (gimmeLIVE), fans like Gail Erdos, MaxxMarion Finkle, and Peter Jason Riley, and studios like Be Imagine, Q Division, and Wooly Mammoth Sound existing in the community. What also exists are programs like Girls Rock Campaign Boston (And Ruby Rose Fox’s Queen Treatment Only event) that relies upon “collaborative creativity” from the young women enrolled with a focus on “building them up not tearing them down”. Johnson offers this hopeful takeaway: “I think eventually we’re gonna get to this place where we just see people as people. If that could be the outlook we all have, that’d be so beautiful”. Same goes for Sasha Alcott (When Particles Collide) with this realization: “I think young women and men and gender non-conforming folks the world over are realizing that their strength is in what the industry might not be looking for actually”.
Engaging, enthralling, inspiring, and everything you could hope for out of the film with an especially rousing performance of “Soul Shaker” by Hayley Jane while the credits roll that’ll keep you in your seat until the very end. Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the gorgeous sound editing and particularly one scene at Be Imagine Studios with Liz Bills (Liz Bills & The Change, Analog Heart) talking about coming to the realization that she was writing songs for everyone but her and then performing an a capella version of the first song she wrote just for herself which nicely transitions into the recorded version of the song which was especially endearing.
Beautiful Was the Fight from Lonely Bird Films is doing the festival circuit currently with a recently announced appearance at the upcoming 10th Annual NHdocs: The New Haven Documentary Film Festival scheduled for October 21st (Links for that here). If you’re closer to the MA area, though, BWTF will have a free screening on October 19th at Klarman Hall (On the Harvard Business School campus) and all you have to do to see it is register here! In addition to that, the film will be hitting the Museum Of Science at the Mugar Omni Theater a little later this year and you can stay up-to-date on when through the gorgeous BWTF website (Designed by the aforementioned Jenny Bergman of Secret Bureau of Art + Design) here which has all the social media and upcoming screening info as well as an EXPANSIVE “Meet The Artists” section which is your one-stop be all/end all on the fabulous talent featured throughout the film.