Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love, and Death of a Punk Goddess by Lilly Scourtis
Since becoming a parent, I’ve become acutely aware of movies that deal with the impact that parents, and particularly fathers, have on their children’s lives, for better or worse. Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Still Walking fascinated me so because of that theme. Malick’s The Tree of Life left me shaking and undone because of it. It explains why, as much as I want to see The Dardennes’ The Kid with a Bike, I’m not sure I would be able to handle it. And it explains why I was so fascinated and saddened during Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love, and Death of a Punk Goddess, Lilly Scourtis Ayers’ unflinching documentary about punk rock icon Marian Anderson.
Employing the usual Behind The Music approach — i.e., a blend of home movies, concert footage, and interviews with friends, family, and former lovers stitched together by narration (courtesy of Henry Rollins) — Last Fast Ride is a portrait of a truly troubled and fractured soul, and her often shocking attempts to strike back at the pain at the center of her life… pain brought on by sexual abuse.
Born in 1968, Anderson had an idyllic California childhood — until it was shattered when she was raped and molested by her father. Afterwards, a sad yet unsurprising cycle emerges. Anderson makes her way through the system and various foster homes, eventually ending up at her grandparents for a time (which, by all accounts, was one of the few places she felt truly loved and at peace). While a teenager, she begins her forays into the two cultures that would largely shape her short life: the sex industry and the punk rock scene.
Working as a prostitute and a dominatrix, and moving around California to play in various bands, she eventually settled in San Francisco and became the lead singer of The Insaints. The shaky, grainy concert footage from the late ’80s and early ’90s reveals that Anderson certainly had a definite stage presence — one of the film’s interviewees describes her as a mix of Siouxsie Sioux and Lydia Lunch — and it’s clear she saw being onstage as a way to exorcise her personal demons. But as The Insaints grew in popularity and notoriety, her performances became increasingly sexual and exhibitionistic — with other sex workers joining her onstage at times — and ultimately resulted her arrest for public indecency in 1993.
Although her friends and family stress that Anderson’s on-stage antics were more a front than anything else, and that she was actually a very kind and devoted friend off-stage, one can’t help but wonder if they have it backward: that the broken and angry girl we see onstage eventually became the real Anderson. Indeed, even as Anderson is expressing her pain, the very vehicle and method of her expression seems to make things worse, and seal her fate. As such, Anderson’s loss of innocence, and the extent of the damage that she suffered and the extent to which it changed her, becomes all the more tragic and sickening.
Also, without trying to absolve or downplay Anderson’s father and his actions, it’s difficult to watch Last Fast Ride and not have questions about the other people in her life, and what contributions they made to her state: the madam who benefited from Anderson’s brokenness and anger; the girlfriend who thought it a lark to stick an unloaded shotgun in Anderson’s mouth to scare her (and saw no need for anger management classes); the bandmates who, by all accounts, didn’t call into question Anderson’s self-destructive artistic choices; and finally, those who saw Anderson’s on-stage nudity and sex acts as an issue of “art,” free speech, and punk rock defiance rather than, say, a cry for help.
This article originally appeared on Filmwell on April 16, 2012.