The 1979 BBC feature on X-Rex Spex singer Poly Styrene, entitled Who Is Poly Styrene?, captures the late punk icon at the height of her fame, shortly before she would leave the band due to exhaustion. Following the group on their non-stop schedule—live shows, photo shoots, interviews, recording sessions, an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, and even a tour of the EMI vinyl plant—it’s easy to see why.
Age 22 at the time of filming, Styrene (born Marianne Joan Elliot-Said) was the only young black woman in a sea of white punks and music industry employees. She appears most at ease in the scenes of her day-to-day life—shopping for groceries, riding her bicycle, playing piano or pinball—before being forced to resume the persona of a manic day-glo dream girl. Whether barraged with questions about her braces or unwelcome advances from fans trying to kiss her, being Poly Styrene seems draining.
Despite its brief 40-minute runtime, the TV documentary provides an illuminating glimpse at a groundbreaking figure of punk’s first wave. With a feature-length documentary directed by her daughter now in the works, there’s no better time to get familiar with the original germ-free adolescent.