aGLIFF Opening Night Film Blitzed! Dances the Night Away
Nightclubbing with Britain's answer to Studio 54
Rusty Egan has stories. He dined with David Bowie, booked Madonna for her first UK show, took DJ'ing to Ibiza years before it became the island destination for ravers. He's been there, done that, and could be the solo subject of a dozen documentaries, but Blitzed! The 80s Blitz Kids Story puts him as part of a scene that changed music and fashion for a generation. The documentary, which receives its North American premiere at next week's All Genders, Lifestyles, and Identities Film Festival (aGLIFF), cut back to 1979 when, at age 21, he convinced a bar owner in London's Covent Garden to let him host a Tuesday nightclub called Blitz. That's where a bunch of fashion students and musicians, who dubbed themselves "the Blitz Kids," brought electronica and rebellious fashion to post-punk Britain. And Egan was there for every second: "I called up Soft Cell, I called up Depeche Mode's mum, I booked every band, every DJ, played every record."
In under two years, as the 1970s decayed into the 1980s, the Blitz Club was a Studio 54-level game changer for the UK. Veteran music video editor Bruce Ashley, who directed Blitzed! with Michael Donald, called it "a pressure cooker of creativity." Many of the Blitz Kids attended the prestigious Saint Martin's School of Art, and no one got through the door unless co-founder and doorman Steve Strange gave his approval to their handcrafted look. Ashley recalled being told by club regular and future music journalist Robert Elms that "you could never, ever wear the same thing twice."
"All of them would categorically say that it was not a gay club," Donald added, but Blitz's mix of Weimar debauchery and Regency-period British flamboyance created a space for free expression, whether creative or sexual. As Boy George (who worked in and occasionally stole coats from the cloakroom) told him, "This was the first time where boys were allowed to be pretty. ... It was a safe environment where they felt they could be themselves, and for a lot of them that was being gay."
And having a safe place was essential. This was a time before Bowie was a universally loved icon, and the burgeoning New Romantics were an easily spotted target. "You left your house and you took your life into your hands when you tried to go out clubbing in this violent, depressed, Thatcherite Britain," said Egan.
That bleak prelude dominates the opening act of Blitzed! "It was very important to paint the landscape that the whole thing grew out of," added Donald. "It helps make sense of how utterly grim and racist and homophobic Britain was at the time, and this was absolutely kicking and screaming in the other direction."
The story of Blitz has been told multiple times before, but often just centering on the men making music: bands like Spandau Ballet or Egan and Strange's project, Visage. That's why Ashley and Donald made sure to include Blitz Kids who had never been included in those earlier documentaries, like London College of Fashion Design and Craft Programme Director Darla Jane Gilroy (immortalized forever as one of the nuns in David Bowie's video for "Ashes to Ashes"), and film and TV costume designer Fiona Dealey, who told him, "Most of the time this story is being told by 40-year-old white guys."
"Of course their version of it is accurate, but it's only their version," said Donald. "Three middle-aged white dudes [don't] reflect in any way the demographic that was in the club."
Blitzed! The 80s Blitz Kids Story North American premiere, 7pm, Thu., Aug. 26, Galaxy Highland, 6700 Middle Fiskville.
aGLIFF Prism 34 runs Aug. 26-Sept. 6. Tickets and passes at agliff.org. Check out more preview coverage on aGLIFF in next week’s issue.