Review by James Lindorf
Even though women have been paid percussionists since this time last century, professional drumming is still perceived as a man’s job. The field is still nine men for every woman. However, the times may be changing with new inspiration in the form of director Lindsay Lindenbaum’s debut documentary “Tomboy”. Shot over the course of five years allows “Tomboy” to capture the magic struggle of the music industry. “Tomboy” was initially scheduled to screen at the SXSW Film Festival in the 24 Beats Per Second category and follows four generations of women. Some already left their mark, while others are searching for a way to fill the world with their sound.
None of the four subjects may qualify as household names, but the pair of veterans have found real success. Ms. Bobbye Hall started at Motown in the late ’60s well before turning 20, and she later toured the world with Bob Dylan. Samantha Maloney discovered rock and roll watching Motley Crue on MTV’s Headbangers Ball. A decade later, she hits the big time joining the Courtney Love fronted Hole, just two years before living her dream taking her place behind the kit for Motley Crue.
Chase Noelle spends most of her time performing in small clubs around the country and England with the all-women punk band Boytoy. Traveling with the same group of people for years on end can cause a lot of tension, adding romantic feelings to that situation only intensifies the issue. The Sledge Grits Band’s drummer is Bo-Pah Sledge. Her natural hair and charismatic smile help anchor, the pop group, made up of Bo-Pah and her three older sisters.
Lindenbaum decided to present each of the women differently. Ms. Bobbye Hall shares her story through reminiscing with the help of a photo album or two. She spends most of her time playing with her granddaughter, trying to enjoy the moments touring kept her from experiencing with her daughter. Music is in her soul whether she is at the park, with friends, or home by herself Bobbye is continuously finding things she can use to make a beat.
The recently retired Samantha has most of her story told with her archival footage. Some made for music videos or official tour footage, but most of it was her home footage. Time with her family before her career and her time alone finding a bit of home on the road, so she doesn’t lose herself. In the present day, she is facing her regrets about life and how sometimes it is impossible to have everything.
Chase and Boytoy give the most in-depth look at the music process. They are shown at practice, on the road, and performing at several shows. Their interactions range from agitated to loving, and Lindsay wasn’t afraid to show them at their worst. Chase is also shown to be the most female-forward of the subjects. She grew up wanting to be a boy because of the cause of their strength, but now she loves being a woman. She embraces it with everything from her music to her sexuality and style. She dresses only for herself, occasionally wearing revealing outfits to a gig not to catch anyone’s eye, but because she believes it will make for the best show.
The youngest member of the quartet is 16-year old Bo-Pah. While music is essential to everyone in her family, and we see the release of their first single, her story is not about the music. It is about maintaining familial connection hile chasing a dream. Bo-Pah is an artist to her core with music, drawing, or watercolors, and she always finds a way to express herself. She has a plan to go to college and get a degree because she wants to have a backup plan if the music doesn’t work out. The center of her story is her relationship with her father. He showers them with love, attention, and guidance he can offer now before his sickness takes him away from his girls.
It is a shame that SXSW was canceled at that “Tomboy” will have a more difficult time finding its audience. Lindenbaum may have some rough edges to polish before her next film, most noticeably the film’s camera work. Most of the time, it was only incrementally better than the subjects’ home videos. Still, her ability to edit a present a compelling story of art, family, dreams achieved and dashed, from years of new film plus all the archival footage, was no small feat.