all images courtesy of google images
I recently watched Anthony Scarpa’s wonderful documentary "Betty Blowtorch: And Her Amazing True Life Adventures" about the late great rock band. It was bittersweet. Four ferocious women break ground on the LA rock scene, come close to achieving some commercial success, and then lose everything due to the untimely death of lead singer and bassist Bianca “Butthole” Halstead. Their music was a combination of 80’s style hair metal with a bit of pop/ punk mixed in.
The film was shot with a small DV camera. The beauty of the low-fi approach is that you feel like you’re living moment to moment with the band on the road. Nowadays, everything has such high production value. Just because 24p and HD cameras are readily available doesn’t mean they’re appropriate for the content. Some scenes feel like a fan captured them on their camera phone. The effect is a raw quality that a high gloss “Behind the Music” episode could never have. The interviews with Bianca feel especially candid. You see her sprawled out on her leopard couch, casually recounting stories as if she were hanging with one of her best friends.
The film opens with a Betty Boop cartoon. She wiggles her hips while singing a song about how to keep your "girlish" figure. When the songs stops, drums kick in, and you hear the roar, "We're from Hollywoooood" as the four foul mouthed, hard rocking women, with greasy hair and tattoos launch into the anthem "Hell on Wheels". While they share the namesake of the 1930’s cartoon star, Betty Boop’s restrained sexiness and demure “girlish” charm is a far cry from Betty Blowtorch’s in-your-face explicitness.
Betty Blowtorch were disciples of the Runaways, further paving new territory for women in the hard rock genre. As a feminist, I often have to reconcile my love of hard rock with my disdain for misogynist lyrics. Whether or not it’s right, it’s refreshing to hear a song like “Size Queen”…it feels like the answer to GNR’s “It’s So Easy”. Most of their songs were purely fun and tongue-in-cheek, but others pact a “personal is political” punch. “Get off”, confronts incest and “Rock my World” is an anthem of sexual autonomy. Bianca Halstead and Betty Blowtorch will be sorely missed, but hopefully their legacy will inspire the next generation of women in rock.
For more info on the film check out bettyblowtorch.com. Watch the trailer here.
Now just for fun.. if you want to look like a hard rocking biker chick, I’ve supplied you with the goods. Grab your bass, drum set, or guitar and you’re ready to rock!