Hot Docs Review: 'Fanny: The Right to Rock' Celebrates the Past but Gets Stuck in the Present Directed by Bobbi Jo Hart
Starring Jean Millington, June Millington, Brie Howard Darling
Published Apr 27, 2021Fanny are forgotten trailblazers. As an all-female rock group in the early '70s — not to mention Filipina-Americans and members of the LGBT community — they were possibly the first of their kind, but their music hasn't survived compared to their male contemporaries. Fanny: The Right to Rock attempts to put history right by highlighting the ways they broke down doors and also chronicling their recent reunion (under the modified moniker Fanny Walked the Earth).
The film begins with a David Bowie quote calling them "one of the most important bands in American rock," and interview testimonials come from Bonnie Raitt, Todd Rundgren and members of the Runaways, the Go-Go's and the B-52's. Joe Elliot of Def Leppard says, "They were girls, but they weren't wearing miniskirts with their tits out. They were long-haired with instruments. It's like, this is a girl with an instrument on," which he evidently means as a compliment.
It's a gripping story, so long as The Right to Rock keeps its eye on the past. The women's accounts of homophobia and racism are upsetting, and their stories about hanging out with Joe Cocker and Mick Jagger are fascinating. It's sex, drugs and rock'n'roll with a major twist.
The film does a disservice to its subjects by focusing too much on their reunion: a tired boogie number called "Girls on the Road" plays over the opening credits, and footage of an awkward band practice in the first few minutes doesn't offer much evidence of their instrumental prowess. The Right to Rock works a little too hard to repeatedly tell us how great the new music is; audiences will need to get through the first 10 minutes in order to begin to see what made Fanny special.
The Right to Rock isn't quite consistent enough to turn Fanny into the next Anvil, but hopefully it will help to fill in some of the missing gaps from rock history.
Hot Docs runs online from April 29 to May 9, 2021. Get more information at the festival's website. (Crave)