Writer and Director: Alexandria Bombach
We should all be more like The Indigo Girls. Not just a brilliant band, fearlessly incorporating folk, country and rock into their sound, but also social warriors long before Twitter was invented. Amy Ray and Emily Sailers have fought, and continue to fight, for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights, have protested for environmental issues and have joined the Black Lives Matter campaign. The two women are exemplary and Alexandria Bombach’s film ably showcases their unique blend of music and politics.
Meeting at school in Atlanta in the 1980s, the partnership between Ray and Sailers has always been solid. However, they are very different women. In the early days of the band, Ray had a bit of temper, humorously seen in an old clip when she appears to break a guitar string. Sailers was more grounded at this stage in their careers, but was reticent about her politics. Today Ray seems calmer and Sailers has no problem campaigning for what she believes.
While never actually in the closet, when The Indigo Girls came out publicly to the media it was a big deal. One journalist asked whether their sexuality reduced the amount of radio play they received. The Indigo Girls suggest that the lack of radio play wasn’t just down to them being lesbians, but being lesbians with politics. Still, even without their songs being played on the airwaves, The Indigo Girls became huge, especially after they supported REM in 1989.
But their journey to queer icons hasn’t come without some mishaps, the funniest of which is when a music journalist said that they, particularly Ray, were earnest and self-congratulatory. At the time Ray was furious, but now, when she looks back, she thinks that the journalist may have been right – to some extent. But most tellingly she finds it funny.
Ray and Sailers may take their politics very seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. They sing about this in their early hit song Closer To Fine, from which the title of this film gets its name: And the best thing you ever done for me/is to help me take my life less seriously/ it’s only life after all’.
And this philosophy for life shines through Bombach’s film which mixes old concert and interview footage with newer conversations. They shine in the past with good intentions and now, in their late 50s, they shine with wisdom. Their music changes lives, it really does.
As always with music documentaries, it’s tricky to get the balance right between the music and the history. There could be more footage in Bombach’s film of The indigo Girls’ performances. In fact, you can never get enough of their gorgeous harmonies and their bittersweet melodies. And they both play a mean guitar.
The very start of It’s Only Life After All should be the film’s closing scene. It features people singing along at a concert. You kind of want to be in the crowd too. So, it’s good news that the Indigo Girls are back on tour. See you at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in August.
It’s Only Life After All screened at BFI Flare 15-26 March 2023.