“Oh yeah, she performs” is set almost exclusively on stage or around stage performances. How did you come up with this concept? Does it have anything to do with your work experience on the radio?
Unger: Of course, my work at FM4 had a great influence on the film. While I was there I learnt a lot about what a (female) musician’s life is like. All those years I kept waiting for new female musicians to enter the Austrian music scene – and finally, they came along: Gustav and Clara Luzia.
And what exactly changed then?
Unger: The line-ups at the FM4 parties hardly ever included any female musicians, except for the odd DJane at 3 a.m. The charts also didn’t feature any women – well, there was PJ Harvey or Björk and Chicks on Speed, but women were still few and far between. At the radio station I always tried to play music by women. We had lots of discussions on this behind the scenes at the station, and gradually more and more women emerged. As for the music – there is a lot going on at both national and international level. Ten years ago things were completely different.
How important is it then that the film features four musicians who are more or less the same age as you are?
Unger: In my opinion this is the next generation. They live in a different environment with different working conditions, including technological developments. I think they are already one step ahead.
How does this show? Are they better networkers?
Unger: Yes, digitalisation has changed a lot of things, both for the process of making music and social networking. Female musicians now have access to a wider audience. They have a new sense of self-awareness and their role models are different. But I also made this film for the next generation, the generation of my daughter. I want to inform the audience about what’s going on, because there are still lots of people who even don’t know these musicians. I want these women to be seen and not only heard. In most cases the images to the sound are still missing.
Actually it’s a paradoxical situation: on the one hand, everybody is filming at concerts with their mobile phones and on the other hand there is hardly any official film footage. What was your approach with the camera work? You seemed to use a lot of close-up shots.
Unger: It was obvious that we didn’t have the means to compete with expensive concert films. But then again, those kinds of films wouldn’t be this intimate – and that’s why the close-ups were really important here. I was thinking of old footage of the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, where you have very long close-ups of Mick Jagger. You’re really close to the action, and can still feel the vibe today when you watch this video. You can read the emotions on their faces. This “flying camera” creates a different atmosphere. I shot these sequences on film and because we had very little material, I had to do short takes. As a result, we had to break the linear timeline in the editing process. For instance, during a song I use filmic material of other songs to convey the atmosphere of a whole concert.
How did you select the musicians? There are plenty of other figures you could have chosen…
Unger: Right from the start it was clear that Gustav and Clara Luzia would play an important role, but I did interview about 20 female musicians together with Veronika Weidinger. I talked to a lot of interesting women, such as Birgit Denk, Cherry Sunkist, Mieze Medusa, Anja Plasch… For a long time, we wanted to have Anja in the film, but getting the funds together took so long that in the meantime Anja’s career had progressed and she had other plans when we started filming. I liked Teresa from the very first interview. At that time she was with Bunny Lake, but you could already sense she wanted to branch out on her own. I’d also made a music clip for Bunny Lake and while we were filming I’d noticed what a presence Teresa had in front of the camera. And then along came Luise Pop. I really liked her music – she played at a concert before Clara. And it was just fantastic to see how well she played the guitar. During the research for the film I discovered that there are really few women in rock ‘n’ roll, especially in Austria. Vera joined the project very late on, but she brings a certain rawness to the film.
How difficult was it to live up to how the musicians saw themselves? I’m sure each one of them pays a lot of attention to their image…
Unger: I was extremely nervous when I showed the edited version of the film to the protagonists and then very relieved because they liked it. For instance I was very grateful that Eva (Gustav) took part in SHE. I know how cautious she is about what’s published about her. She actually wanted to keep in all the scenes which I had thought would be a problem for her. For instance when she says: “here comes fatty Jantschitsch” –she insisted on keeping that in the film.
There’s a general feeling in the film that the musicians “belong” to themselves –they are their own product…
Unger: Through her association with Bunny Lake, Teresa was more branded than the others, but she wanted to move away from that. She is very authentic. In this respect Clara is a phenomenon: she doesn’t even change her clothes when she goes on stage. Before, on stage and after –she is always the same person. With other people you often see a huge difference.
And there’s the issue of feminism, which is addressed in a very subtle way. Was it your intention not to push the subject too much?
Unger: I didn’t want it to feel forced. I wanted it to be a natural part of the film –without waving around slogans in the people’s faces. And I didn’t want to scare anybody away: it’s just a film about great women. It’s about their lives with all the anxieties and problems that come with it. I thought a lot about what men would feel watching this film. They should be able to identify with the film and not feel attacked by it. Maybe this film is also about how feminism has left behind this tough attitude.
Is that how the protagonists see it too?
Unger: I showed the film to each of them and asked what they felt about how they are portrayed. And whether they accepted their screen personas. Eva asked to talk about feminism in the film, saying that music is a space dominated by men, which needs to be conquered. She wanted to speak a feminist language. It was important to her that it came across as a conscious decision and not something incidental.
The film only shows private moments that are somehow connected to work. Why is this?
Unger: I tried to figure out how close I could come to these characters without becoming voyeuristic. A certain distance and focus on their work was therefore essential.
But there’s no way around the babies…
Unger: Exactly, because they influence the working process. That was my general approach, also when it came to dealing with their relationships. The private elements are always connected to work issues. The babies were just there –when we were editing we actually had to make sure they didn’t feature too strongly. But it’s also the age when people usually have babies. And so it’s a rock ‘n’ roll movie with babies in it.
How did you choose the songs?
Unger: They are my favourite songs, and also some hits –I’m sure it has something to do with my work on the radio. I guess I developed a sense of what it takes to attract people and how to squeeze in difficult issues without putting people off. I tried to mix old and new songs. I also chose songs which I relate to personally.
Unger: “Into the future” by Bunny Lake, because I made the video clip to this song. And it is very characteristic of the band. I asked Clara to play and sing “Fine” when she was sitting under the tree –it just fits in well there: one of her early songs and beautifully simple. We kept Gustav’s slower songs; there’s not much footage of her rower, fast songs. But her slow songs are more accessible, they have so much power… “Things will fall into place” is just fantastic! And “Leave the city” was perfect for the location. I tried to create a playlist like a fine DJ set. The final song in the film, “Save the whales”, is a classic and a great highlight at every concert.
… Almost like a bonus track.
Is the whole film arranged like a concert?
Unger: I guess you could see it like that. But the film is more than a concert film.
Interview: Dominik Kamalzadeh