Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
I’ll be honest and admit the name Lydia Lunch was not one I had heard of before I started watching the documentary Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over. Why would I? I’m an unhip Aussie who wasn’t even conceptualised back in 1979 when Lydia started performing with her band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (which… yeah, best band name ever, calling it now). In a way, I feel like not knowing anything about Lydia worked to my advantage because watching the film felt like being punched in the face with shock and awe, which feels like it fits in well with her aesthetic.
Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over chronicles the life and influence of Lydia Lunch, not only covering her influence on other artists of her era but also what elements of her upbringing may have pushed her to create the kind of art that she would become known for. Loud, bombastic and confrontational as fuck, the film paints a portrait of this gloriously complex person that’ll make you fascinated with her before they even start to roll the credits.
Very often in documentaries about an artist, there’s a sense that someone is trying their best to only paint the subject in a positive light, all the rough edges sanded off in order to create a palatable image… yeah, Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over has no fucking time for that. This is about as raw and visceral a documentary as you can imagine. It tells everything, there isn’t a stone left unturned. Hell, they didn’t just turn the stones but they throw them directly at the audience’s head to make sure you’re keeping up.
Confrontational doesn’t even feel strong enough to describe what happens in this film. It’s almost daring you to be shocked by something Lydia says or some element of her act… however, that willingness to show just about everything you could imagine seeing from an artist’s life only makes it more fascinating. Sure, there were moments where I was taken aback by the things I was seeing but it was impossible to look away. No matter what you might think about the art being made, the artist is one of the most compelling human beings to ever walk the earth and this film makes damn sure there’s enough here to properly compel you.
The life story of Lydia is powerfully told through a combination of interviews and archival footage, only occasionally breaking it up with performances by Lydia and it’s a lot to take in. Like, enough that the film needs to open with a warning… which honestly says a lot that it feels novel to see a warning in front of a documentary that’s about someone who is a very confronting presence, it clearly wants you to have a reaction but doesn’t want to do active harm and that’s incredibly commendable (and says a stunning amount that other documentaries don’t seem to do that).
Even with that warning and being very abruptly shown just how intense this movie is going to be (seriously, the opening story is the kind of thing that most films use for an emotional climax and this one throws it out before you’ve even properly gotten comfortable in your seat) there are some moments where the intensity gets to a point where you can lose track of events and the pacing just felt a little off towards the end. This could be just down to spending so long watching such an undeniably intense personality that you can get overwhelmed by it, even at a brisk 75 minutes there is just so much here.
If you want to learn more about a powerful figure in underground art, Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over is a must-see. It’s confronting and powerful as hell, but there is just something about Lydia that makes it hard to look away. You’re going to sit there and take what she’s offering and love every second of it, it’s a lot but oh boy is it worth it.