An entertaining an in-depth look at the first decade of the band Twisted Sister.
This month I’ve reviewed five documentaries from across the ages. One covering a band the 70’s (Twisted Sister), a pair from the 80’s (The LA Glam scene), one from the 90’s (At The Gates) and one from post 2000 (Edenbridge). Feel free to read all my reviews of these very different documentaries spanning well over 40 years.
Released in 2016, WE ARE TWISTED F***KING SISTER is probably the most well known and most widely viewed of the four docs in this feature. It played on different streaming services and has won a number of awards at film festivals but I decided to review the actual DVD as it comes with multiple bonus features, not available on the big screen or cable pay-per-view services.
The DVD itself is a bit poorly presented. There is no booklet and it comes in one of those cheap, easily damaged, eco-booklet DVD packages. That is pretty much the only negative I could say about this movie. WE ARE TWISTED F***KING SISTER is a feature length film running a little over two hours and it comes with a bonus disc of nearly five hours of bonus features. As per industry standard, technically the Director Commentary (by Andrew Horn) counts as a bonus feature. I’ve never agreed with this policy, it seems misleading, but that is not this DVD’s fault. So in terms of actual new, different visual bonus material the actual run-time of the bonus stuff is closer to three hours…which is still amazing! It is great value.
The movie is unique in that Horn deiced to cover the first decade of the iconic NYC glam Metallars, Twisted Sister. Causal fans may not know this but the band was active for an entire decade, (almost 12 years actually) before making it big on their third album STAY HUNGRY. For the SMF’s (the Sick Mutha F***king Friends of Twisted Sister), the rue fans are well aware that the band had a long and storied history well before their big hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and heavy rotation MTV videos of the mid-80’s. So no matter which camp you are in, this movie is eye-opening and very revealing.
Anchored by several long interviews with Jay Jay French and Dee Snider the film takes us from 1972 or so up to 1982 with a triumphant live concert appearance on British Televison. The movie starts with that TV footage and then wanders lazily back to the early roots of the band. The film is of the classic ‘talking head’ variety but there is enough old footage and pictures of photos spliced in to keep it visually interesting…especially when you are looking at a bunch of shall we say hideous cross-dressing rockers. There are lots and lots of other people interviewed as well; roadies, managers, fans, industry people, club owners, and Dee’s wife and longtime band costume designer. I found the whole segment with Jason Flom talking about championing this crazy band and getting constantly rejected by his superiors (and even threatened with getting fired if he ever mentioned them again) until he finds a sneaky back-door way to get his own company to sign the band without his boss knowing! This is big time, big money, big NYC Record company politics at it’s finest. Every classic era member gets some screen time, some more than others, the sadly deceased drummer A.J. Pero getting virtually no screen time. However, he joined around 1980, near the end of the documentary. A few early members such as Ken Neill, get extra screen time adding a value perspective of the early years. The footage and sound quality ranges from adequate to pretty poor, keeping in mind this stuff has likely been lovingly salvaged and/or stored for 30 years before this movie went into production. It gives you an idea of what it was like back in the sweaty club days and to see some of Dee stage banter (and costumes) are priceless.
The film is phenomenal and really portrays how hard the band worked, how much they sacrificed and the sheer will it took to claw their way to the top after set-back after set-back and more. As an old rocker I had always known how different touring and live gigs were in the 70’s to today. Today a band will play a ‘world’ tour of about 60 gigs and consider that big, busy year. Back then Twisted Sister would play 60 gigs in one summer, in one state! The work ethic of live musicians has really evolved and maybe not for the better. You could not ask for more from a film documenting the early days of a band. And ofcourse the music just kills! But there is more…the bonus features.
I must admit I was a bit disappointed in the bonus features. Perhaps ‘disappointing’ is not the correct term but the bonus disc is not exactly what I was expecting. As I mentioned earlier the Director Commentary counts; as over two hours of bonus. The remaining stuff is simply extra scenes. In many (most?) other DVD’s I have there is a distinction made between ‘deleted scenes’ and actual bonus content. When I heard this two-disc set had 5 hours of bonus features I was really excited and then to find out the bonus is really is just 2.5 hours of deleted scenes and a Director Commentary, I was a bit let down. No matter.
However, there is a flip side, and from a positive perspective, there are 2.5 hours of deleted scenes! Essentially this cutting room floor stuff doubles the length of the movie. The interviews are so long they had to be edited or the film would have been over four hours long, too long for screening anywhere. The deleted scenes are grouped into nine categories, or sub-chapters each with a bit of a theme, expanding on a point made in the film itself. For example there is , ‘The Fans’, ‘The Clubs’ and ‘Stage Craziness’ and more. Ideas get expanded, stories are fleshed out and more of the secondary interviewees get more screen time.
In the actual film on Disc One, there are many clips of their former co-manger Joe Gerber getting interviewed as he drives around. It thought that was a bit weird as all of the other interviews were people sitting down in different environments. However, in the bonus footage it comes clear that Gerber is actually doing a driving tour showing the camera all the old club locations that the band used to play in the early 70’s. He has lots of cool anecdotes. In fact, virtually every segment, some as short as one minute have many great stories such as Twisted Sister challenging Hanoi Rocks to a fight or a very sincere and candid Gerber discussing how one night on tour in England Anvil blew Twisted Sister away on stage, a mistake that Twisted Sister never repeated. I could go on for days…but I have to show some restraint. There are 2.5 hours worth of stories I could share but you should go buy the bonus disc version and see for yourself. Most CD reviews are only 250 words, and although we have no space limit, this review is already well over 1200 words long as it is!
WE ARE TWISTED F***KING SISTER is a triumph on almost every level. I think any young band who thinks they have what it takes needs to watch this movie, watch it carefully and learn what it takes to make it in a very competitive environment. It goes without saying, that pretty much everyone who ever enjoyed the band on any level, will enjoy this excellent film. With the recent retirement of band this DVD stands not so much as a sad reminder of what was, but a magnificent and in-depth celebration of the humble origins of one the most entertaining Metal bands that ever was.
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