“They Always Wanted to be Famous… They never knew they would be wanted!”
1997 110 Minutes German
As I have noted one of the great things about the VHS world of the 90s was that it was open of foreign films much more so than in the 80s. I don’t know if it was that most of the Hollywood back catalog of note had been mined, or that the indie boom (which was really in a lot of ways like the director driven films of the 70s) opened peoples eyes and wallets to films from other places… but luckily a lot of films made their way into our VCRs.
Bandits, from Germany was one of those films. The plot is about a band formed in prison that finally gels and when sent out to play a gig at the policeman’s ball manages to escape. After seeing a news report about escaped male prisoners and up set about nothing being said about their escape they call up Blitz TV (a German MTV like channel… I’d watch it) and perform for a camera crew on top of a parking structure and give an interview before fading into the city. This of course brings them to the attention of not only the police who have been looking for them, but the public at large and they find an audience for their alt rock sounds.
The band is made of up of strong women, most of whom are in prison for standing up to, conning, or fighting back against abusive men in their lives. They each have their own creative side and their own issues, which leads to a dynamic of conflict, but also of creative inspiration. They are not easy people to like and the film never asks the viewers to forgive them for their crimes, or makes them out to be victims of those they committed their acts against.
Once out of prison and on the run they make plans to escape the country, but have to wait for their boat to leave, and during that time they have a series of adventures which also give them an excuse to play music live, and have musical numbers similar to what was found in classic musicals of the 40s and 50s. It’s worth noting that like Altman’s Nashville the actresses created a large number of the songs they sing and perform in the film.
I recall liking the film a lot when I saw it back in the 90s and have looked for it on DVD since. Re-watching it now I didn’t love it as much, but I suspect that was due to my own distractions while trying to watch it. I think it’s a solid film and one that I wish more people had latched onto and discovered. It’s a film that really should sit along side Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Ladies and Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains (and the Running Kind, but we are going to get to that) in showcasing that women can and always have been able to rock, and portraying flawed strong women making their way in a hostile world.