Wade on Birmingham

Shout 2010: Sister act


Movie review: ‘The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls’

By Chance Shirley

Review at a glance: “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” introduces New Zealand’s established folk music humorous activist duo.

Topp Twins Untouchable Girls

Sisters Jools, left, and Lynda Topp are the heart of
the documentary, “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls.”

“Yodeling lesbian twins … on paper, they should not work. On paper, they should be commercial death. But they totally deliver to the audience, time and time again.”

Birmingham ShoutThat’s how New Zealand comedy writer Paul Horan explains the appeal of singing duo Jools and Lynda Topp, subjects of the documentary, “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls.”

It screens on Sunday as the Birmingham Shout closing night film.

English musician and political activist Billy Bragg calls the sisters “a sort of anarchist variety act.”

As you might gather from the above descriptions, the Topp Twins are not your ordinary folk music act. But that hasn’t kept them from finding commercial success around the world, especially in their home country of New Zealand.

The two got their start singing on the street for tips in the early 1980s. They were starring in their own variety show on New Zealand television by 1996, which ran until 2000.

Using a combination of interviews, concert footage and archival photos and video, director Leanne Pooley creates an impressively complete portrait of the Topps over the course of 85 minutes.

Pooley’s job is made somewhat easier by the fact that the Topp Twins are so candid. They explain how they came to terms with their sexuality in a great bit of onstage banter:

“We realized that there was this whole bunch of women, there was a big group of them, they were called ‘lesbians.’ And Jools and I looked at each other one day, and we just said, ‘You know, we’re a lot like them. We must be lesbians, too.'”

The Topps’ matter-of-fact attitude about their sexuality is credited with encouraging acceptance of gays and lesbians in New Zealand. The duo has been involved in several other social and political causes over the years, including the anti-nuclear and anti-apartheid movements.

“The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” broke opening weekend documentary box office records in New Zealand. If you’re a fan of Jools and Lynda Topp, this movie is obviously a must-see. For everyone else, it’s an interesting look at Kiwi pop culture and politics.

chance shirleyChance Shirley, co-founder of Birmingham-based Crewless Productions, will participate as a panelist at the “Changing Forms of Distribution” Sidetalk at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. He served as producer and writer on “Monster Hunt with James and Kevin,” premiering at Sidewalk on Saturday.

His sci-fi horror/comedy film, “Interplanetary,” should finally arrive on DVD in early 2011 from Camp Motion Pictures.

“The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” will screen at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Hill Arts Center.

Video: A look at the Topp Twins at home on the farm,
in a scene from “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls.”

Video: Interview with director Leanne Pooley and the Topp Twins

Video: “The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls” trailer


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