Not willing to be contained

William E Badgley on Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits' connection to Don Letts and Rebel Dread

by Anne-Katrin Titze

William E. Badgley’s Rebel Dread protagonist Don Letts with The Slits' Ari Up
William E. Badgley’s Rebel Dread protagonist Don Letts with The Slits' Ari Up

Bill Badgley’s (aka William E Badgley) Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits (associate producer Guy Maddin), with Tessa Pollitt as our guide, features on-camera interviews with former band members Viv Albertine (author of Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys and star opposite Liam Gillick in Joanna Hogg's Exhibition), Paloma Romero (aka Palmolive, The Raincoats), Neneh Cherry (New Age Steppers, Rip Rig + Panic, and Float Up C-P), Budgie (Siouxsie and the Banshees, Creatures), Bruce Smith (The Pop Group, Public Image Ltd), and Steve Beresford (Christian Marclay collaborater, London Improvisers Orchestra), Cut LP producer Dennis Bovell, 99 Records recording artist Vivien Goldman (author of Revenge of the She-Punks), Adrian Sherwood (On-U Sound Records founder and producer of 99 Records Singers & Players War of Words LP which has Ari Up on keyboards, engineered by Bovell), Paul Cook (Sex Pistols), Gina Birch (The Raincoats), Don Letts, and not Thurston Moore.

Bill Badgley with 99 Records founder Ed Bahlman and Anne-Katrin Titze: “The Slits movie is obviously about not being willing to be contained …”
Bill Badgley with 99 Records founder Ed Bahlman and Anne-Katrin Titze: “The Slits movie is obviously about not being willing to be contained …”

Rebel Dread will have a Special Gala screening at BFI Southbank, London on Thursday, March 3 at 6:00pm followed by Don Letts in conversation with activist/writer Chardine Taylor-Stone, drummer and vocalist for Big Joanie.

The documentary will have its Glasgow Film Festival première at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Friday, March 4 at 6:15pm with Don Letts in conversation with poet Dean Atta.

From Los Angeles, Bill Badgley joined me and music producer Ed Bahlman (founder of 99 Records) on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Here to Be Heard: The Story of The Slits and a touch of Rebel Dread.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hello!

Bill Badgley: Hi, how’s it going?

AKT: I’m well. How are you?

BB: I’m good.

AKT: Your Slits film and the upcoming Don Letts film are very much connected, aren’t they?

BB: That’s literally how I got from one film to the next. We obviously bought a bunch of stuff from Don for The Slits film. Because Don does not operate in the normal way, the way people who sell archive material operate. Typically they would give you a bunch of low-res stuff and it’s very expensive so you cut it down to like the seconds you need in the film.

And they charge you per second, but Don doesn’t work like that because he’s been around for so long. I view Don as like a corner candy bodega store for footage. You buy whatever he feels like giving you. And you just leave and that’s it.

Bill Badgley on Guy Maddin: “A really cool guy and very encouraging.”
Bill Badgley on Guy Maddin: “A really cool guy and very encouraging.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: That’s lovely and such a great image. I can see it.

BB: But it’s also not everyone can go in. It’s like a selective bodega.

AKT: You have to wear Vivienne Westwood [as Don Letts does in Rebel Dread], or somehow look the part! What is very interesting are the locations you chose for each of the people you interviewed. It tells so much. There’s Paloma on Cape Cod with Marimekko-looking wallpaper. Viv Albertine sitting in a staircase?

BB: That was the only one sort of like fabricated. Because Viv was the only one that didn’t have me go to her house. I don’t know why that is. Tess, I moved to her house when I was in England. And Paloma, I stayed at her house too, a very nurturing kind of person. Whereas Viv just came over.

AKT: So you just put her in a staircase! It’s perfectly expressing what you are telling me now. Vivien Goldman is sitting on a director’s high chair with a white background and that very interesting outfit that she chose.

The Slits Typical Girls badge from shop 99
The Slits Typical Girls badge from shop 99 Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

BB: I love it. Viv G. Is like my favorite, she’s great. Last time I saw her, I immediately slipped into this son role. I was at her apartment in Queens and she was like “I’ve got this heavy thing that I can’t get to the curb!” And I was like “Oh, I’ll carry it down for you.” I was like what other stuff can I do around here? She’s amazing.

AKT: I saw that Guy Maddin was involved in your film somehow, somewhere. What was his involvement?

BB: That was the first time I ever got complimented by another filmmaker; that was really cool for me personally. I grew up in a place where there are no filmmakers and Guy was just really supportive. He wrote me out of the blue and he’s just a nice guy.

AKT: Yes, he’s a very nice guy. We’ve been in touch for many years, too. That’s why I noticed the mention.

BB: So you know him, yeah, just a really cool guy and very encouraging. As you know, the entertainment industry is - I mean what do you say about the entertainment industry? It’s like a minefield. I beg people not to get involved in it.

AKT: I actually have someone who wants to say hello to you who was in the entertainment industry and left: Ed Bahlman of 99 Records.

Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits poster
Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits poster

BB: I thought I saw a sleeve earlier.

Ed Bahlman: Bill, great job! Even though you weren’t around at that time, I felt I was back there, watching your film.

BB: Thank you, I really appreciate that.

EB: The way you were structuring it, using Tess and her scrapbook! Also great get Adrian Sherwood. I did the first Singers & Players [War of Words LP, produced by Adrian, engineered by Dennis Bovell with Ari on keyboards]. I did that on 99. Also I saw a side of Ari that’s not known by many people. I also produced and managed ESG.

BB: What’s the side of Ari that you’re talking about?

EB: She came to see ESG and said “Ed, can I meet them?” At Danceteria I think it might have been. She was so loving to them and so kind - ESG are four sisters from the South Bronx and they said “Who is this person?” Because she was so loving. And that’s not a trait of hers that’s commonly known. Also getting Bruce Smith.

BB: Oh yeah!

EB: Was Bruce in LA?

BB: No, I saw Bruce in New York. Long Island City.

EB: Don Cherry used to live in Long Island City.

BB: Oh really? I didn’t know that.

EB: In the same building as Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth.

Singers & Players War of Words LP, produced by Adrian Sherwood - 99 Records
Singers & Players War of Words LP, produced by Adrian Sherwood - 99 Records Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

BB: Probably a coincidence. I’ve been to Neneh’s house too. She lives in England, actually very close to Tess. It’s really funny actually because Tess, Neneh and Jeni Cook all live not very far from each other.

EB: So you gave a thanks to Thurston Moore?

BB: Oh yeah. He’s funny. You’re probably aware that he’s very tall.

EB: Yeah, yeah.

BB: I was really impressed by him, because it was after this whole shit mess happened with him and Kim [Gordon]. It was widely publicized to this embarrassing degree. Watching these two people having this private thing in front of the whole world.

EB: I know.

BB: We did this event, it’s in the film. Actually I cut Thurston out of it, which is a financially stupid decision probably. In fact, I do that all the time, I love doing it. Many people financing films, they like to cut in celebrities. I’m always like, I don’t want anyone in the film, I don’t care who they are, I don’t care if it’s Obama, I don’t want anyone in the film who wasn’t there.

EB: Perfect!

Ari Up was a fan of the band - come away with ESG LP, produced by Ed Bahlman - 99 Records
Ari Up was a fan of the band - come away with ESG LP, produced by Ed Bahlman - 99 Records Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

BB: Executive producers hate that, because they finance the film on stuff like that. In fact, for Rebel Dread … I shouldn’t even say this, never mind. I forget I’m talking to a journalist. He and Viv [Albertine] are great friends and they talked about her book. It was at one of the Rough Trades. I think Rough Trade East.

Thurston is not in the movie because I cut him out. I wanted the climax of Viv’s arch to be that she wrote a book about the band. But he talks so much in the thing that I’m like, I can’t end a movie about this powerful woman with, like, listening to a man talk. Things look different in life than they do on film.

EB: Thurston is everywhere, so you did the right thing. He’s in so many documentaries! I also did Viv [Goldman’s] 12” Dirty Washing for my record label 99 Records.

AKT: In the Don Letts film you really manage to get him to go very far. There are not many films where somebody would admit to 8 years of a double life [see Antoine Barraud’s Madeleine Collins screening in the 27th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York].

BB: Yeah, I’m glad you say that. As a filmmaker you spend a lot of time thinking about what I didn’t do. There were things that we didn’t even put in the film. A big disappointment to me is that there isn’t a big scene about the Windrush generation. Anyway, I’m just airing my own insecurities right now. I had this scene that was about the Windrush and how it affected Don as a little boy.

Ex-The Slits Neneh Cherry - Float Up C-P 7"
Ex-The Slits Neneh Cherry - Float Up C-P 7" Photo: Ed Bahlman

And I ended up cutting it and it’s one of those things that’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life. He’s a complex character. I’m very bored of music scenes, like with The Slits, like with my first movie, I call that movie a biography about a friendship.

The Slits movie is obviously about not being willing to be contained by gender, by genre, by government, by anything. And the Don movie, I felt, was about a young man finding himself in a difficult situation. Obviously race is a driver there. I loved making that film because I love stories like that.

EB: Did you see the series of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films [Mangrove; Lovers Rock; Red, White And Blue; Alex Wheatle; Education] about London in the late Seventies, early Eighties?

BB: No.

EB: Dennis Bovell is in one of them. Last time I talked about The Slits was with Dennis in 2019 when he was in New York for the film Babylon [directed by Franco Russo].

BB: Oh yeah, yeah.

EB: He told me all about recording Cut. I told him I had the album in the shop window at 99. And he said “you could have been arrested!” He thinks of the London police at the time.

Rebel Dread poster
Rebel Dread poster

BB: Yeah!

EB: Is that a cat?

BB: Yeah, that’s my cat, Louise. She comes to most meetings at some point.

AKT: I have one last comment and then you can cuddle your cat. I like how you put pre-Slits, pre- something. It’s so beautifully put, it’s like Pre-Raphaelite! You’re announcing that this is them before in early photographs. I’ve never seen that done before.

BB: In the title card? I started recognizing that all these people, not all but a lot of people that are key people in a certain scene, have also done other interesting things. For instance if a person is in multiple bands I usually put title cards on them as the band they are in in that part of the story and as the story changes their title card changes. Rather than announcing that John [Lydon] is being in Public Image Ltd from the very beginning, I’m making his card change.

AKT: Thank you so much!

BB: Thank you very much you guys!

EB: Bill, you really did it right!

BB: Thanks, I appreciate that.

Coming up - More with Bill Badgley on Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits and Rebel Dread.

Additional screenings of Rebel Dread will take place this weekend at Home in Manchester on Saturday, March 5 at 8:30pm with Don Letts in conversation with producer, filmmaker and radio host, Karen Gabay, and at the Showroom in Sheffield on Sunday, March 6 at 6:00pm with Don in conversation with Showroom Workstation Chair Brendan Moffett.

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