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By Matthew Sorrento | September 12, 2006

The opening clips of “Rise Above,” a documentary featuring the lesbian punk band “Tribe 8,” are disorienting enough to make you feel like you’ve been plunged into a beer scum-covered mosh pit. The image of vocalist Lynnee Breedlove, bare-chested and wearing a strap-on aimed at a male fan’s face, recalls GG Allin in Todd Phillips’ documentary “Hated.” Philips’ “believe-it-or-not” film ran well just on the psycho-punk Allin’s exploits, who performed in nothing but cowboy boots and let all his bodily fluids run loose for effect. (It must be seen to be believed.) While the late GG ran things clear out of control (he rarely completed his sets before the power was cut or the authorities showed), “Tribe 8” pushes things enough for you to almost dismiss the group as another shock act.

While delivering unrehearsed stage antics, “Tribe 8” performs routine punk grind, even resorting to Black Flag’s trademark rant, “Rise Above.” What separates the film’s variety of concert footage is not the songs in question, or even when they were performed (the film covers years of “Tribe 8” shows), but mainly who played the goofball onstage at the time. However, director Tracy Flannigan finds the real juice in the backstage antics of the group. Although they seem goofy here too, their personal lives provide intriguing snapshots of women who have united and blended their sexual preference with their punk lifestyles.

Vocalist Breedlove takes up most of the spotlight. Offstage, it takes nothing to imagine her as the class clown in high school. She often seems to be the first to lose her shirt during a show, and then bask in the punk rock sensation that her stripping provides. As she wields a mic (and dildo) at a close-range audience, you soon realize that the female body isn’t about male gazing anymore. Though her stage play makes for temporary fun, during an interview she’s clear about her message: by acting male, she pokes fun at male aggression. And what ethos she has for such jesting when her ample breasts fly wildly with every chant.

When bassist “Tantrum” describes why she takes off her shirt during a show, you realize that the Tribe uses their nudity to break down men’s auto-drool trigger for bare-chested women. After the documentary has run its time, male viewers will forget they have been checking out tits for almost an hour and a half, and realize that a musical act has broken our auto-responses for a time. Breedlove’s mock oral rape of male volunteers from the audience is a sure help.

Ironically, the undisputed babe of the group, half-Asian guitarist Leslie Mah, stays shirted – though she is one of a few in “Tribe 8” to discuss the impossible battle to stay monogamous. It’s quite hard for her especially, since she routinely battles eager lesbian audience members offering their tongues to her. (She accepts one or two.) Attention to these quirks behind the characters runs a bit overlong, but Flannigan mixes in just enough to create a unique portrait that transcends the usual trappings of bizarre subject matter.

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