2007 SXSW 24 BEATS PER SECOND DOCUMENTARY FEATURE! Most fans of punk music know the story of the Gits, but for those of you who don’t, here’s a recap: formed at Antioch University in the late ‘80s, the Gits (named, Toad the Wet Sprocket-like, after a Monty Python sketch) moved west to seek their fortune, settling in Seattle and living the boho lifestyle in a run-down house, working minimum wage jobs while practicing and playing local gigs.
Their growing popularity was due in large part to the lyrics and stage presence of singer Mia Zapata. A descendant of the Mexican revolutionary, Zapata’s songs were heartfelt, stirring, and brought a tincture of the blues to their punk sound. She was hugely popular on the scene and viewed with affection by virtually everyone who knew her.
In the summer of 1993, the Gits were planning a major tour and poised to enjoy the breakout success their fellow Washingtonians Nirvana and Pearl Jam were seeing. It was therefore a tremendous shock to the community and the punk scene as a whole when Zapata was raped and murdered walking home from a bar one night.
The effects of her killing resounded beyond the Seattle scene, as fans and fellow musicians organized benefits and – unhappy with the Seattle police’s progress – hired a private investigator to find her killer. Years passed, leads grew cold, and the Gits went on to reform under another name with a different singer, but Zapata’s murder continued to cast a pall over the scene.
“The Gits” is a treasure trove for the many fans of the band’s music who never got the chance to see them live. Director Kerri O’Kane has assembled an impressive amount of concert footage to complement the interviews with the surviving Gits, other local bands (7 Year Bitch, D.C. Beggars), and her family members. Watching the movie, one understands why the unassuming Zapata was held in such high esteem. Unassuming and almost painfully shy, she was a touchstone for many involved in Seattle’s music scene. After hearing the music of the Gits again and seeing Zapata perform after all this time, one can’t help but feel sad for what could have been.
In 2003, a suspect was arrested in Zapata’s murder, and the doc ends not with a sense of closure or justice gained, but perhaps the possibility of finally being able to move on. “The Gits” is a stirring portrait of one of the great, largely unknown voices in music and how her loss is still felt to this day.