They were a defining band of heavy metal in the previous two decades. A group not only remembered for what was for most of their tenure an all-female contingent but also the “in your face” hard-edged sound with which they worked so diligently to create. Kittie was for years an act that achieved varying levels of success in the music industry but always maintained a strong following with fans that were willing to support them through the roller coaster that has signaled much of their music career. With Kittie: Origins and Evolutions, (2018, Pyre Productions, Running Time: 94 minutes, Directed by Rob McCallum and available here to purchase with accompanying DVD, audio CD and Blu-Ray.) the proverbial stage is now set for the members of the band and those important to their music to tell the story of these trailblazing women and how they shaped the culture of the heavy metal genre. But for those watching this documentary, will they be saying (to quote from their song titles) that the film is “What I Always Wanted” or will it be something along the lines of “What Have I Done?
Origins and Evolutions follows a first-hand accounting of the band from its birth as high school students coming together in London, Ontario and continues that ride through the six albums that the group released to audiences. Various members of Kittie reminisce about their days with the group and the peaks and valleys that go along with it. While Kittie‘s ultimate success in the music industry did not rival those of contemporary heavy metal stalwarts Metallica, Pantera, Slayer, Slipknot and others they did find a niche within that fan base who gravitated to their distinct lyrical style and the powerful voices that were behind them. Director McCallum also integrates within the film the music, live performances, behind the scenes and recording footage one would hope to find when watching any type of modern music documentary.
As teenagers, Morgan and Mercedes Lander proved to be the through-line for the film as they have been the only ones to have been a part of the band from its inception to its current hiatus. It is from their perspective that Qrigins and Evolutions gets its solid foundation and a point A to Z timeline. This is where the film shines the most with McCallum’s readily apparent affection for the band and what they represented to the industry really shines through as it reinforces all the positives that the band created in its strive for greatness. It is in the interviews with the Lander sisters, Tanya Candler and Fallon Bowman when they are describing the early days of the group that this documentary really strikes a chord with what fans of the group may have wondered about how the band truly came to be and where it was going. But where the film ultimately lays its mixed success is in its voice from other members of the band, producers and record company officials that becomes a key part of Kittie‘s story.
When the narrative is being told by others of Kittie‘s history, the film leaves familiar territory and reaches into elements of the band’s history that leaves the audiences with more questions than answers. Whether it be their constant changeover in band members or their fleeting success at a young age, the part of the story those watching most likely will want to see more of but ultimately do not get the chance to experience isn’t truly explored at a truly 100% desired enough level. Bits and pieces only mentioned only in passing such as conflicts with parents, record companies and producers, sexism and misogyny affecting the band adversely, fellow band members wanting more creative input and a non-appearance by two of the girls who experienced Kittie‘s history first hand (as both Talena Atfield and Lisa Marx declined to be directly interviewed) are subjects not brought up in enough detail to keep Origins and Evolutions from achieving a true all-encompassing movie of the group that maybe some were looking for.
As a straightforward documentary outlining the achievements and history of a heavy metal wonder, McCallum’s work proves to be a blessing for those who wish to understand more about a group who rocked the world over with their music only to leave things very much up in the air twenty years after they started (the film does give fans hope for a reformation outside of the one night performance back in October). The real-life narrative of Kittie‘s once-promising outlook at the beginning of the century, only to see it declining away by the mid 2000’s amid the pressures of the music industry is one that has been seen before on many an occasion but to view it from perspective of the trail-blazing band from London, Ontario provides a more interesting look than most other contemporaries of its kind. But key points that are left out or underdeveloped in the crafting of Kittie‘s story will have viewers wanting more and keep Origins and Evolutions from reaching greatness as a truly defining heavy-metal documentary. This is, however, an essential guide for Kittie fans wishing to see a different side of the group they have come to love. For everyone else, it is a documentary that despite its flaws proves to be an entertaining but incomplete insight into the life of a heavy metal band even if that means the film isn’t “Everything That Could Have Been.”
After writing this review the opportunity arose to view the extended edition final cut of the film (3 hours, 6 minutes) that was only made available (as of now) to backers of the project via IndieGoGo. This version does answer some of the lingering questions with the band and their backstory that the shorter film cannot answer as it does a much nicer job of filling in the gaps. Topics such as the legal battles with the record company, bandmate departures and life on the road are more accurately displayed in this longer version. While the band members declining interviews still hurts the overall outcome with both versions, the extended edition is a much-preferred documentary for anyone who wants to dig in deep and come to know the real story of this remarkable and talented group that rocked the world in the earlier part of this century.