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Hot Docs Film Spotlight – ‘Teaches of Peaches’

“I want there to be nowhere to hide from these sentences that I want people to focus on,” declares Peaches, the subject of a new documentary film Teaches of Peaches, from Austrian filmmaker and photographer Philipp Fussenegger and director and editor Judy Landkammer. True to the artist’s words, in this film there is indeed nowhere to hide from the uncompromising artistic visionary and cultural provocateur, Peaches.

Born Merrill Nisker in Toronto, Peaches claimed her preferred moniker from a Nina Simone song, “Four Women,” at the end of which Simone screams, “My name is Peaches!” Peaches went on to create an influential body of electroclash music that combines cock rock, ‘80s synth grooves, and sexually-charged, gender-ambiguous lyrics, performed in an audacious stage show.

Screening at this year’s Hot Docs documentary film festival in Toronto, the film follows Peaches as she mounts a tour commemorating the 20th anniversary of the release of her seminal album, The Teaches of Peaches, which features her signature track “Fuck the Pain Away.” Archival footage of Peaches is deftly combined with interviews and performance sequences from the 2022 tour.

Peaches hasn’t lost any of her creative energy. She’s maintained her playfully-menacing stage presence, and her passion to explore and provoke remains intact. The film presents a fascinating artist – still making a lot of noise, messing with gender roles, and promoting free expression. And still talking about, as contributor Shirley Manson puts it, “dirty, dirty sex.”

Fusseneggo and Landkammer include plenty of riveting footage of Peaches’ stage show, as well as documenting a lot of the preparation that went into getting the anniversary show on the road. With some help from hair stylist Charlie Le Mindu, Peaches and her band are transformed into a deliciously subversive troupe of hoodlums. She’s shown occasionally using a walker off-stage, but with a new hairdo, her own makeup job, and some strategically placed items obscuring her naughty bits, she gives her audience everything she’s got on-stage. She clearly doesn’t give a shit what people think of her, and she is serious about fucking with white, CIS, male norms. She deliberately features the slogan “Thank God for Abortion” in a number of sequences.

Peaches offers her two bits

Peaches’ commentary on her own life and career are self-aware and insightful, and the other contributors add still more depth to the quality of Peaches’ character. Roommate and collaborator Leslie Feist (popularly known simply as Feist) is like a human camera, sharing compelling accounts of her work and friendship with Peaches. “She was kind and clear, and had adulthood worked out more than I did,” according to Feist.

Feist (r) on stage with Peaches

Regarding “Fuck the Pain Away,” Garbage frontperson and fellow uncompromising badass icon Shirley Manson finds it to be “hot and dangerous. A portal into her whole career.” Shirley appreciates the contradictions Peaches is exploring. “She’s talking about darkness, but it’s couched in joy. It speaks to the joy in us, but also our destructiveness, our suffering as human beings.”

Shirley Manson (r) and Peaches share a bottle

Peaches lived an “underground fairy tale” in Berlin around the turn of the century, collaborating with her friend Chilly Gonzalez (aka Jason Beck), who says, “People tend to find each other at the right time, when they need to be taught something. In my case I needed to loosen the fuck up.” But Peaches’ boyfriend, Black Cracker, puts the finest point on Peaches’ attitude concerning free expression. “If you’re sucking on it, then it’s relevant. If it’s not in your mouth, then it’s not your business.” I don’t think Peaches herself could have put it any better.

The film features many of the tracks from The Teaches of Peaches, with performances across Europe and North America, as well as great archival clips. The performance montage of “Fuck the Pain Away” near the end of the film shows the muscle and potency of her relentless sexuality on stage. Nothing beats the live experience, but this film captures a very reasonable proximity of the raw power Peaches brings to every performance.

Teaches of Peaches presents this singular artist and performer in her element and in her own words. Fussenegger and Landkammer have created a polished film that retains a lo-fi, Berlin underground vibe. It’s a celebration of Peaches’ influential career, and it also serves as a great introduction if you’re not familiar with her. As she explains in “Diddle My Skittle,” there’s only one Peach with the hole in the middle.

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