Subcultural screener

Tramps! – a documentary celebrating the glamorous misfits of 80s Britain
By Sean Burns | Film+TV | 4 April 2022

TRAMPS!, a new documentary by Canadian filmmaker Kevin Hegge, charts the story of a small group of artists and designers in London in the 1980s. Hegge seeks to situate the scene, labelled as ‘The New Romantics’ (a term they detest), in a lineage of queer artistic energy that extended from the preceding generation and furnished the next. It offers a multitude of insider takes on a narrative that’s often erroneously reduced to only pageantry and pop. We speak to Hegge after the film’s debut at BFI Flare, London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival.


Sean Burns: I want to begin by asking about the significance of BFI Flare. Was it where the film originated? What’s the story there?
Kevin Hegge: I showed my first movie, She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column [2013], there, and the programmers were super kind and present. It’s a big festival that feels really intimate. So it was the obvious place to premiere the film, particularly with COVID-19 restrictions ending. 

SB: I understand you met the filmmaker and DJ Jeffrey Hinton at Flare in 2013.
KH: I met Jeffrey there. We went for a pint after. He took me to the East London club Vogue Fabrics. It was closed, but they opened for him. It was crazy. Someone mentioned that he was part of this world. I was a huge Michael Clark fan and asked Jeffrey why you couldn’t get hold of Clarke’s early footage. He wanted to know why I was asking about Clark. I was like, “Because I’m a fag who’s obsessed with him!” Jeffrey was like, “Well, you can’t get hold of it because I have it; I shot it.” That conversation unravelled into all these other things.

SB: He’s the key to the city. In the film you touch on material published in the new style magazines of the time, such as i-D and The Face. I’m thinking particularly of The Face’s ‘The Cult with No Name’ feature from 1980. Were you reading those magazines when you were a teenager in Canada?
KH: I’m from a small town, so I would have to go to the city to buy The Face. It was really during the Britpop period of the late-90s, though. The depth of that history unfolded as I got older. Scarlett Cannon mentions in the movie that, at the time, The Face and i-D were grassroots zines that became hugely influential magazines. It was amazing to learn more about how those magazines impacted the community. 

Judy Blame in ‘Tramps!’ directed by Kevin Hegge, 2022. Courtesy: the artist

SB: One of the things your film does well is to give a two-sided account. So, for example, there’s a critical moment when Les Child, referring to social hierarchies, says that an unfounded sense of superiority was always a component of the English sensibility. Philip Sallon is another voice to offer an alternative perspective to a sheer celebration.
KH: Well, the intention behind the movie at the beginning was to disprove what we typically know about punk, that it was the only thing happening in the city. But, of course, many things were happening simultaneously: Donna Summer, industrial music, such as Throbbing Gristle, etc. I wanted to contradict things we are told about this era and go deeper into it, revealing links we don’t often see. There’s a lot of Boy George and Spandau Ballet out there. I don’t think that’s a very accurate depiction of the art-makers of that time. I like documentaries because you can almost make up whatever history you want. I liked playing to that. 

“The intention behind the movie at the beginning was to disprove what we typically know about punk.”

Princess Julia in ‘Tramps!’ directed by Kevin Hegge, 2022. Courtesy: the artist

SB: I loved the section about Trojan’s paintings. Can you talk about your interest in him?
KH: I didn’t know a lot about Trojan when I started making this movie, but I started making it long ago. I wanted to take a fresh perspective and talk about the diversity of art practices happening at the time. So, I consciously tried to sidestep the high-profile artist. Leigh Bowery has become a monumentally huge artist. People have the same conversation repeatedly – we get force-fed this one thing. There’s not an opportunity to see that there was a lot of exciting work happening at the same time because of these elements of free education and available central squats. I wanted to show that there were more practices outside of Bowery and Boy George, even though I love them both. 

I wanted to show people that, as you get older, you don’t need to become bland.”

SB: There is a beautiful moment in the film where you memorialize those people who died from AIDS, which felt really important. John Maybury says in the film that those people are often missed from the story.
KH: I wanted to show how many people were contributing to the scene. Obviously, talking about AIDS, I wanted to bring the people back to it. The whole creative community was decimated. It felt as though it might be nice to take a moment and talk about some of these people who were near and dear to many in the film. 

SB: It was brilliant to see pictures of those people and their names because we should celebrate them in the same way as the other people in the film. What’s the future for the film?
KH: We’re just figuring it out now. I think they’ll be some theatrical moment. It has been a whirlwind racing to finish it for Flare. 

SB: You ended on the note that Jeffrey, Princess Julia, most people from that scene, continue to feed into what happens now.
KH: They were essential to the story because it kept on shifting. People were asking whether I was going to interview club kids nowadays, but I don’t think club kids nowadays know anything yet because they haven’t been around. So Jeffrey and Julia’s experience, knowledge and vitality were really appealing to me. I wanted to highlight that. I wanted to show people that, as you get older, you don’t need to become bland. I love how Julia says that you can create your own journey. Why, when you turn 40, are you supposed to be boring and wear beige? The older I get, the crazier I hope to become as far as I’m concerned.

TRAMPS! is dedicated to the memory of groundbreaking artists Judy Blame (1960–2018) and Duggie Fields (1945–2021), whose insightful contributions illuminate this story. 

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