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#HotDocs21 Review: Fanny: The Right to Rock

April 29, 2021

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

June and Jean Millington are sisters who moved to California from the Philippines in the early 1960s, and formed a band as teenagers, with June on guitar and Jean on bass. The group would come to be known as Fanny, the first all-female rock band to release an album with a major label. But, despite recording five albums before their breakup in 1975 and attracting well-known fans including David Bowie, the band has never really gotten the credit it deserves, something that is largely chalked up to sexism, with people not being ready for hard-rocking girls at the time.

Director Bobbi Jo Hart looks to set this right with her pretty good documentary Fanny: The Right to Rock, which explores how the group broke down barriers as women, as Filipina-Americans, and as members of the LGBTQ community. The film is centred around Fanny reuniting to record a comeback album under the new name Fanny Walked the Earth, which finds June and Jean getting back together with their original drummer Brie Howard Darling, a childhood friend who was in their first band The Svelts as teenagers.

But the film is at its best when looking at how the band fits into rock music history. The band is credited as being ahead of its time, with lyrics including “he was hard as a rock, but I was ready to roll” in their song “Butter Boy” and “she knows she’s cool ’cause she’s on the pill” in “Charity Ball” that were quite progressive. Other band members were brought in over the years, including drummer Alice du Buhr, who speaks in the film about how hard it was at the time as a closeted lesbian.

It’s a classic tale of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, with wild stories about the goings on at their Hollywood home dubbed Fanny Hill, where they hung out and jammed with other musicians like Joe Cocker and Bonnie Raitt. Raitt is one of the people who appears in the film to talk about the impact of their music, along with Cherie Curie of the Runaways and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott. At times the film feels a bit too fawning, and some of the band’s history feels brushed over. But Fanny: The Right to Rock is an upbeat film that serves as a decent introduction to the music of this somewhat forgotten group.

Fanny: The Right to Rock is available to watch from April 29th until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Digital tickets and more information can be found right here.

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