Home Video Hovel- Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love and Death of a Punk Goddess
When I was but a young, Midwestern middle-schooler, I discovered punk rock the same way many kids my age did at that time, through the twin “alternative music” radio influences of The Offspring and Green Day. The Offspring were on Los Angeles-based Epitaph Records while Green Day had released two albums on Lookout Records, located in Berkeley. Not having anything even approaching regular access to the internet, I studied the liner notes of these CD’s and the catalogs from these labels to learn more. Through Epitaph, I discovered Bay Area stalwarts Rancid and, from studying the flyers that lead singer Tim Armstrong had created and which covered the booklet in the Let’s Go album, I came to understand that the early to mid-nineties Bay Area punk scene, Lookout included, had a single address around which it all orbited: 924 Gilman St. Unpopular and misunderstood, I wanted nothing more than to visit this nirvana where the weird people who liked loud, angry music with a positive message were the norm and where racism, sexism and homophobia were the only things prohibited. Lilly Scourtis’ new documentary Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love and Death of a Punk Goddess is about one woman who was there and who found everything I was looking for but also discovered the sad truth I wouldn’t have been able to accept at that age, that a place and a scene are not enough on their own to save you.
The figure at the center of Scourtis’ story is Marian Anderson, a young woman who survived an abusive childhood in Modesto, California and who went on to local notoriety as the lead singer of the Insaints, a band whose live performances became known in the area for being part punk show and part live sex exhibitions. Anderson saw no distinction between her punk rock ideals and her day job as a sex worker. She lived loudly, openly and proudly in every way. Then, as the title suggests, she died. In a Los Angeles apartment in 2001, Anderson overdosed on heroin.
Scourtis begins her film innocently (and superficially) by composing what looks like a straightforward love letter to Anderson. It starts to resemble a puff piece or a bit of hero worship. Even the horrendous details of her childhood are treated as mere components of her legend. Where the story takes shape is in its second act, when it expands beyond Anderson to encapsulate the Berkeley scene and its center at 924 Gilman St. (the owner of which was in a long term relationship with our protagonist). The case is made for this time and place as a bastion of meaningful political correctness and a haven for odd kids. Finally, the film focuses in on its inevitable tragedy, the story of Anderson’s inability – despite the help offered her – to best her demons.
924 Gilman and the Insaints (as well as Anderson’s numerous other musical projects) allowed her the full measure of her own expression. Scourtis subtly insists that people are most comfortable and productive in like-minded support groups. Then she deftly reminds us with Anderson’s sad tale that any such group or even movement is inevitably made up of individual people.
Almost all of those interviewed about Anderson’s life are insiders of that Bay Area scene and, therefore, not recognizable to most of us (though Armstrong and The Offspring’s Dexter Holland do both appear). Rather than turning this into an esoteric film made only for people already in the know, however, this specificity about the subject’s life and works actually grant us more insight and make matters more relatable.
Occasionally, Scourtis stumbles by not trusting her own audience to glean what is important. She hits certain points too hard, in some cases going so far as to insultingly add subtitles to an interviewee’s words despite their being perfectly audible, simply to emphasize them. I felt myself wanting to tell the director that she’d made a good enough film and that we didn’t need any more help. Marian Anderson’s story will be a heartbreaking and fascinating tale to anyone, no emphasis added.