The world of subcultures is the world of the teenager. That most awkward of times when kids mindsets begins to change and for the first time they find themselves being influenced and intriguid by things outside of the family environment which up until this point have represented for them a singular version of the world.
These new inputs are conveyed from all over; tv, music, fashion, from all areas of popular culture but the stongest pull comes from what is happening around you, on the the streets, parks and recreational areas you inhabit as you search for something new, something you can call your own, something different and strange from the previous world you have lived in. A method of escape form your previously existence. Often this is simply a way to deal with the new pressures of your age and development but sometimes those involved are in desperate need of something to run to, something to call their own.
Written, produced and featuring filmmaker Sharon Woodward Thank You Skinhead Girl is an ultra low budget, self made documentary that deals with the onset of adolescence and the search for a new sense of belonging in the world; a new arena in which to grow and more importantly find yourself.
Central to the films story is Sharon’s story. Finding herself placed in to care in order to escape an increasingly impossible situation at home she eventually finds a place, an outlet in the early 80s skinhead scene. It was a good time for skinhead. An earlier revival of interest in this most misunderstood of all subcultures which first emerged in late 60s Britain was enriched by the emergence of the 2 tone scene coming out of Coventry, offering a new twist on the skinhead look. This new scene gathered together the urgency of punk but referred back to the massive influence of black immigrants in terms of ska music and the style of the Jamaican rudeboys that had played a key part in the development of the original skinhead movement.
Female skinheads of the time didnt necessarily refer back to the look and fashions of their counterparts in the original movement. Instead of reviving the feather cut, tonic suits, clumpy shoes and pale make up from the early 70s skinhead girls scene they dived head first and adopted the same pared down traditional, tough working class image of the skinhead – shaved heads, DMs and tight fitting jeans.
Through the film Woodward makes clear the opportunity the asexual skinhead look she adopted allowed her, in some ways , to remain a child and hide from the onset of womanhood allowing here some solace earlier life experiences had taught her to fear. It was the non feminine aspects of the revival skinhead look that appealed to Woodward, the elements of skinhead she used initially to hide behind but ultimately to grow within. Frequently the film alludes to the escapism she found in allowing herself to reject and hold at bay standard notions of femininity and the onset of woman hood.
The film touches briefly on the history of skinheads mainly through an interview with an original skinhead girl but it’s essentially Sharons story. We hear of the painful situation of how she found herself entering a childrens home, but what this documentary’s existance does celebrate is the way the short amount of years she spent within the local skinhead scene of the time allowed her the time and space to begin to enjoy her life and move forward. Theres some great moments of her talking about the music she had enjoyed; skinhead reggae from the late sixties and early seventies, 2 tone and especially the knockabout ska pop of Madness and trying on her old crombie, something she hasn’t been able to bring herself to throw out.
Whilst the 2 tone movement set out unify and act as a celebration of a multi cultural Britain there was plenty wrong in certain factions of the skinhead revival of this period. Increasing unemployment, especially amongst school leavers and an economy sliding further into depression on a daily basis left sections of young people angry, confused and feeling especially hopeless. Right wing, racist groups began to make inroads into sections of this new skinhead revival, siezing upon the the tough working class image and air of violence that had always surrounded the subculture (the pared down, strict uniform of boots and braces had originally been seen causing much mayhem on the football terraces of England during the original skinhead scene). Increasingly these violent escapades began to trouble Sharon and one particular event lead her to re-evaluate certain aspects of the scene and where her life was heading.
Thank You Skinhead Girl does not pretend to offer a full history of the skinhead subculture but does show perfectly a snapshot of a local skinhead scene of the late eighties period, but most importantly gives voice to one womens journey through a turbulent adolescence and the British skinhead scene of the time.