'TRAMPS!' Celebrates and Mourns London's New Romantic Movement

Directed by Kevin Hegge

Photo courtesy of Game Theory Films

BY Rachel HoPublished May 31, 2022

In TRAMPS!, Canadian director Kevin Hegge dives into the New Romantic movement, an underground subculture that would inspire the aesthetic of music icons like Boy George, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, among others. Taking audiences to London's Covent Garden in the late 1970s, Hegge opens the doors to Blitz wine bar, the home of a movement that gave an outlet to the eccentrics. TRAMPS! is a well-crafted documentary that gets to the heart of who the so-called Blitz Kids were, and what they meant to a generation.

The youth that would begin the New Romantic era grew up in a London still recovering from war — buildings covered in black soot, thick smog infecting the air, a far cry from the city we know today. As municipal governments invested in purchasing and developing land and infrastructure, they also issued grants and subsidized funding for social and educational courses, including art school. Many of the Blitz Kids, including filmmaker John Maybury, attributed their introduction to fashion, film and music through this funding, knowing their parents wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise. 

As this generation came of age, there was an inherent desire to rebuff tradition and go against the bleak greys of their upbringing. Taking their cue from the likes of David Bowie and Roxy Music, the Blitz Kids created their own unique style that was gender bending, non-conforming and entirely free-spirited. And what resulted from this was a nightlife just as sexually free and abounding with drinking and drug use. 

Hegge does well not to drown TRAMPS! in nostalgia. His interview subjects, including Maybury, DJ Princess Julia, designer Judy Blame, dancer Les Child, and music producer and DJ Mark Moore, take a disarmingly honest look at their youth. One of the more amusing aspects of the film is contrasting the buttoned-up appearance of some of the interviewees with the debauched archival clips shown. It's a reminder that, for some, the party really did end — but for others, like artist Andrew Logan, that sense of whimsy and singularity still lives on. 

While the film primarily focuses on the joy and freedom of the era, a somber note is hit as TRAMPS! moves into the late '80s and early '90s when the AIDS epidemic reached its peak. A difficult topic for many to discuss, Hegge's subjects recounted the many lives lost during this time: nightclub promoter Scarlett Cannon gives a conservative estimate of losing a dozen friends a year to the disease, while Maybury laments the many queer voices of the movement lost. 

For many, this was when the club lights turned on and they went home. The countless lives lost refocused their perspective and changed their priorities, with their joy and appreciation for the good times still treasured. 

TRAMPS! ends with the interviewees considering the current state of affairs and the youth of today. Rather refreshingly, they unanimously acknowledge that their coming-of-age could never happen today: London is too expensive and consumerism is too rampant. The necessity of art being a job has destroyed creativity — but, paradoxically, what else can young artists do?

Hegge's film isn't so much a time capsule of a golden punk era as it is a portrait of a rare moment in modern history where art, identity and circumstances came together to create a beautiful pivot in British society. TRAMPS! is an honest look at an extraordinary time in London's history when great change was in the air. It's a beautiful love letter to those who affected the change and the lives lost in the process.
(Game Theory Films)

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