Showtime’s Go-Go’s doc, the true ‘Weight of Gold’

Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go’s in The Go-Go’s (2020). PHOTO COURTESY IMDB
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By Richard Roeper

Signal Contributing Writer

‘The Go-Go’s’

Showtime documentary. No MPAA rating. Running time: 98 minutes.

In many ways, The Go-Go’s story is a classic tale of a seminal rock ‘n’ roll band, from the humble beginnings to the early personnel changes to the rise to international stardom to the exhilaration of topping the charts to the dumping of the loyal first manager to the overindulgence of certain substances to the squabbles over royalty payments to the bitter breakup and ultimately a reconciliation. Whew! We’ve seen this movie many times.

But as Alison Ellwood’s comprehensive and expertly rendered documentary illustrates, what’s unique about The Go-Go’s is their pioneering, glass ceiling-shattering, stereotype-smashing status as the first all-female band to write their own songs, play their own instruments and hit No. 1 on the Billboard album charts.

When we talk about musical acts that deserve to be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame but are perennially overlooked, The Go-Go’s should be atop THAT chart as well.

To casual fans who remember The Go-Go’s for such infectious pop classics as “We Got the Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “Vacation,” it might come as a surprise to learn the group started as a loud, raucous, wild and not particularly tuneful punk band.

Unlike previous all-girl bands, The Go-Go’s were not a packaged band overseen by male Svengalis; they found each other on their own and carved out their own identity, gradually making the segue to pop music after Charlotte Caffey joined the band and wrote “We Got the Beat.” (Director Ellwood makes spare but great use of visual touches, in this case some animation to augment Caffey’s story of how she was inspired to write the intro to “We Got the Beat” after hearing the famous “Twilight Zone” theme on TV.)

There’s also a nifty sequence in which Jane Wiedlin explains how she came to write “Our Lips Are Sealed,” and some terrific behind-the-scenes stories, e.g., The Go-Go’s touring as an opening act for The Police, who celebrated with them when their album actually leapfrogged the headline act, and the making of videos for such hits as “Vacation.”

Wiedlin, Caffey, Kathy Valentine, Gina Schock and lead singer Belinda Carlisle all contribute candid interviews, as does former manager Ginger Canzoneri, who gave her heart and soul (and money) to the group in the early going but was tossed aside when The Go-Go’s exploded and decided they needed big-name management to handle their brand. After the acrimonious breakup and years spent apart, we see The Go-Go’s reunited and rehearsing, looking as happy as they did decades earlier.

They still got the beat.

‘The Weight of Gold’

HBO Sports documentary. No MPAA rating. Running time: 60 minutes.

“The Weight of Gold” should be required viewing for every aspiring Olympic athlete, their families and loved ones — and every member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. It’s an unblinking and yet compassionate look at the mental health issues faced by former Olympic athletes, featuring candid interviews with Apolo Ohno, Lolo Jones, Bode Miller, Sasha Cohen, Shaun White and Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever, who narrates and is admirably forthright about his own battles with depression, his two arrests for DUI and multiple suspensions by USA Swimming, and how he was able to acknowledge his issues, get help and find a measure of peace and balance.

Clocking in at just one hour, “The Weight of Gold” kicks off with a timely update recapping how the Tokyo 2020 Games have been postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the dreams on hold for some 15,000 Olympic athletes from more than 200 countries. Phelps talks about the physical and mental health toll the virus has taken on millions worldwide and says, “Mental health is something I’d been thinking about long before the virus hit. … I found myself looking back on the highs and lows, and how close I came to losing it all.”

Director Brett Rapkin does a superb job of utilizing archival footage and weaving in interviews with figure skaters Gracie Gold and Sasha Cohen, skeleton racer Katie Uhlaendar, snowboarder Shaun White, alpine ski racer Bode Miller and hurdler/bobsledder Lolo Jones, among others, all of whom tell similar stories about getting hooked on their sport when they were 10 or 11 years old, and plunging head-first into a world in which nothing else mattered other than training and competing, training and competing.

All of it leading to that Olympic make-or-break moment.

“You get on an Olympic venue bus,” says Sasha Cohen, “and you go to the arena to compete, and you have this kind of epiphany that when you get back on this bus again tonight, your fate will have been sealed. Something will be written into history that can never be unwritten or rewritten.”

We see clips of Cohen stumbling and falling in the free skate at the 2006 Winter Olympics and getting a silver medal, which was considered a crushing letdown, and Lolo Jones on the brink of winning the gold at Beijing in 2008, and then clipping the penultimate hurdle and finishing seventh. Jones talks of coming home and learning her insurance had been cut off and she was to receive a mere pittance to continue training.

“It was so overwhelming, and I had no one to talk to,” says Jones. “I would be washing dishes months later and I’d think about it, and I’d literally be frozen … (but) athletes just don’t talk about our weaknesses. We’re tough. We will hide ANYTHING.”

Gold medal-winning bobsledder Steve Holcomb talks about how he didn’t tell anyone when he first considered taking his own life: “I was worried people would see me as this fragile person … .” He breaks down when discussing his friend, silver-medal winning skier Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, an outwardly fun-loving free spirit who took his own life in 2011.

A year earlier, Olympic sports shooter Stephen Scherer died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. In 2019, silver medal-winning cyclist Kelly Catlin committed suicide. Also last year, Olympic judo candidate Jack Hatton took his own life. And Steve Holcomb, who is so brave and forthcoming talking about his own issues and the loss of his friend Speedy Peterson, committed suicide in 2017.

“I don’t think anyone really cared to help us,” says Phelps. “I don’t think anyone jumped in to ask if we were OK.”

Lolo Jones: “I’ve helped promote Olympic sports for three Olympics. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears. … All I’m asking is that after it’s all said and done, someone can help me mentally get through this.”

The one area where “The Weight of Gold” falls short, or at least feels incomplete, is the absence of interviews with anyone from the USOC to respond to so many former American Olympians claiming they were left to deal with their mental health issues on their own. What’s crystal clear is there is a great and urgent need for a comprehensive plan to help Olympic athletes — past, present and future.

Copyright 2020 Chicago Sun Times

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