TV Party - Documentaries

D.O.A.: A Right Of Passage {MVD}
Originally released back in 1981 and viewed by my younger self at an age when I was absorbing anything and everything Punk, this has remained, in my opinion, one of the best films about Punk ever made. The premise was that director, Lech Kowalski, would follow SEX PISTOLS on their US tour filming a documentary. However, his plans were curtailed when he discovered that the only footage he and his team (which included Punk magazine’s John Holmstrom and photographer Roberta Bayley) could get was via guerilla tactics as the PISTOLS’ label prevented them access. So, to fill the film out, Kowalski went to the UK to film some of London’s Punk bands and scenesters. The result is gripping.
Opening to the pulsing sounds of IGGY POP’s ‘Nightclubbing’ and footage of a christening (representing a new birth: Year Zero perhaps?), the film abruptly lands in Atlanta, Georgia and SEX PISTOLS cranking ‘Anarchy In The UK’. It’s electrifying stuff, even over 40 years later. From there it’s to London and X-RAY SPEX for one of the film’s highlights, ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours!’ which flicks from practice room jam to a wild, raucous gig with Poly in dazzling form.
And so the pattern of the film is set: PISTOLS in America, commentary, then the UK and back to the PISTOLS. It’s a formula that works well and prevents too much familiarity settling in. There are plenty of highlights here: GENERATION X live in rehearsal doing ‘Kiss Me Deadly’, another electrifying performance in the shape of SHAM 69 barrelling through ‘Borstal Breakout’ and a compilation of footage that’s shown over a soundtrack of THE CLASH’s ‘Police And Thieves’ that perfectly displays the grim, grey squalor of London, the simmering social unrest and the disparagement Punks of the era had to take from ‘normals’.
But really, the film is all about SEX PISTOLS. There is some truly terrifying performances, particularly San Antonio that sees Rotten staring down a mix of rednecks and cowboys as the band is pelted with beer cans and delivering what could be the best performance of the film in ‘New York’. It was this gig where Vicious famously removed his bass to hit some redneck in the head and Rotten, without even a flinch, got splattered with mashed potato! Dallas sees ‘Pretty Vacant’ played out with Vicious covered in blood and ‘I Need A Fix’ written on his body. Tulsa sees a stack of cops, snow and religious protesters. It is also this film that has the infamous footage of Vicious and Nancy Spungen in bed, stoned and Sid totally on the nod, passing in and out of consciousness as Spungen whines like an unoiled hinge. It’s actually a very sad piece of footage and one can only imagine what happened soon after in that Chelsea hotel room. This interview with Vicious is the only time a PISTOL appears in interview, unless you count Paul Cook loudly proclaiming “It’s a load of shit!” when asked what he thought of America!
The unlikely star of the film is Terry Sylvester, who in 1978 was the frontman of TERRY AND THE IDIOTS. Away from the bands that went onto fame, he becomes the ‘voice of the people’ within the film - the people who didn’t become famous, who genuinely had to struggle for every penny, who faced poverty, boredom and the everyday conflict that was a teenager’s life in 1978. He also provides something of a fulcrum between the grim reality of the UK and PISTOLS in the US.
If you are hoping for high definition footage, you’d better think again. While the footage is essential viewing, it bears the traits of that guerilla recording - not always in focus, a bit grainy, over exposed (on purpose) and thin sound. However, this has made Kowalski’s footage that much more intense and sincere, you can almost feel the spit on the back of your neck as you watch.
The extras really make this an essential purchase. First, there is a two-hour documentary on the making of the film featuring both John Holmstrom and Roberta Bayley plus journalist Chris Salewicz, PISTOLS historian Mike O’Shea, many of the crew who worked on the film and some unseen footage of Malcolm McLaren. There’s also a couple of interviews with John Lydon and Billy Idol, both from 1984. It’s a great documentary, revealing many new facts (or fables) and a perfect accompaniment to the main film. Then there’s a photo gallery, the original theatrical trailer and, rather oddly, a trailer for Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes.
As said above, I think this is one of the best films that takes ‘77 Punk and puts it in the context of its environs. The boredom and demoralization of London/ UK life is as paramount as the music that shook the nation out of its complacency. The live footage of SEX PISTOLS is among the most intimate and convincing you will see. The random crowd footage and commentary places local identity and opinion - much of it confrontational. With the added bonus of the documentary offering hindsight perspective, this really does become an essential package and snapshot of what was, quite rightly, a cultural revolution. (28.08.19) 

SALAD DAYS: A Decade Of Punk in Washington DC 1980 - 1990 {MVD}

I’d find it hard to believe that anyone reading this would not concur on the massive influence and importance of Washington’s Punk/ Hardcore movement of the early eighties and, equally, that of Dischord Records. Both scene and label augmented and benefited each other, mutually raising the profile and myth of Washington DC HC. This 100 minute documentary is a comprehensive account of that vital decade of Punk history; one that could be considered to be the most influential in US Punk’s tenure.

As is want with such documentaries, it kicks off with a montage of footage before opening up with various interviewees disclosing how they discovered Punk, before progressing onto the importance on the DC scene of BAD BRAINS.

The city is discussed in similar tones to the way many describe bands, with its label as a ‘government town’ being repeated, alongside the fact that it was a decaying, desolate city that lead to it becoming the murder and crack capital of the US. MacKaye discusses the violence and how he organised a reactionary group to battle the ‘Punk Beaters’.

Other early significant bands discussed are, of course, MINOR THREAT and VOID. The emergence of Straight Edge is also discussed, with John Stabb calling it ‘Monk Rock’ and the guys from BLACK MARKET BABY stating it was the beginning of a noticeable division within the city. Violence at gigs was becoming more evident too with slam dancing, macho attitudes, sexism, misogyny and queer bashing all becoming more evident as the Skinhead element appeared. It all lead to Brian Baker stating he, "wants to be in a more commercially viable band," following MINOR THREAT’s split!

The advent of Revolution Summer could provide some of the most interesting footage, with the importance RITES OF SPRING being particularly apparent. Brian Baker’s insight once again provides a high light as these bands, "didn’t resonate" with him! With lots of hilarity made of the term ‘Emocore’, it’s down to Chris Page of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE to define the era most significantly as a, "Moral compass and positive energy." This influences the formation of the Positive Force collective and ultimately....

... The spectre of FUGAZI of course explodes (including a earth-shaking, sense-destroying live burn through ‘Waiting Room’). Mackaye discusses offers from major labels which morphs into the Grunge explosion, NIRVANA and Punk Rock going mainstream.

Throughout the film, live snippets from the likes of SOA, FAITH, UNTOUCHABLES, MARGINAL MAN, DAG NASTY, SCREAM, FIRE PARTY and all those already mentioned are featured.

Interviewees include all the usual characters from Rollins and MacKaye, members of just about every Dischord band of the era plus the likes of Thurston Moore, J Mascis, Kevin Seconds, producer Don Zientara and Positive Force’s Mark Anderson among many more.

Extras are damn impressive too with 14 extended interviews with Mackaye, Rollins and Brian Baker (yes!! Haha) and 10 live tracks from the likes of EMBRACE (including their last ever show), FUGAZI, GI, GARY MATTER and SOULSIDE.

Director Scott Crawford has crafted an intelligent and revealing expose, that progresses from band to band and subject to subject with commendable fluidity. He follows a precise time line, never lets the subject matter get too ponderous by keeping his editting sharp and edgy and gives equal time to the likes of LUNCHMEAT and HOLY ROLLERS as he does to the more reknowned big hitters.

Criticisms? They’re pretty futile really. I’m sure most viewers could suggest Crawford missed whatever band, and personally, I had hoped to see more of IGNITION. I’m sure some would argue that what followed this rather well-documented era would have been interesting. Fact is, that’s a whole different film for someone else to make.

The reality is that this is a well-crafted and comprehensive film that has enough to please DC newbies and scene-battered veterans alike. It raises a smile, opens up some new revelations and without a doubt revives the memory of some forgotten greats. Given the limits of time - could it have been better? I don’t think so. (15.03.18)

THE US FESTIVAL: 1982 The US Generation {MVD}
A 96-minute documentary about the legendary US Festival that was staged in San Bernardino in 1982. While the ‘Punk’ quota is rather small, the documentary as a whole is worth seeing - if only for the sheer amount of money being dished out to create this huge event.
The festival was staged over three scorching days with the first day being the ‘New Wave’ day.  So, GANG OF FOUR opened (not sure how this kind of monster festival created by the corporate earnings of a single individual fits in with their politics but they obviously enjoyed the [pay] day), THE RAMONES played, B-52s, THE BEAT, TALKING HEADS and THE POLICE. Of the other two days, TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS headlined one day, THE CARS played, there was what must have been a hellish ‘Breakfast with The Dead’ (that’s Grateful Dead!), Fleetwood Mac, Santana... As you can see, pretty dull stuff.
Thankfully, the film is so much more than the music however. Footage of some of the bands and performers is expertly interwoven with the story of the festival itself by director Glenn Aveni - and much of it, even today, is jaw-dropping stuff.
The festival was the creation of Apple visionary Steve Wozniak. He wanted to create a ‘celebration of Americana’ (again, how the leftist Politics of GANG OF FOUR work there is another story) and handed over a cheque for TWO MILLION DOLLARS to get the ball rolling. That’s still a lot of money 35 years on. But that’s only the beginning of the cash flow hemorrhage. The festival wasn’t staged at a pre-built venue; this was custom built with $10 million spent on constructing an amphitheater with diggers. Later on, Wozniak funded the festival’s very own off-ramp to prevent traffic chaos. All of those interviewed also suggest that their pay-day for the event was more than satisfying - in fact the biggest many of the bands had earned. Keeping in with Wozniak’s geek persona, he also staged a technology fair. Much to the disgust of many of the stage hands and event coordinators (including the infamous Bill Graham), he also gave a bunch of his friends back-stage passes and set-up an enclosure to the side of the stage for himself and friends - including a sofa!
Musically, of course it’s the RAMONES that are of most interest. All members are filmed in brief discussion, although it’s Marky who offers most of the post-event commentary. There’s a brief segment of the band playing ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ too. TOM PETTY could well be the musical highlight (and I’m not really a fan) with a blazing take on ‘Refugee’. THE POLICE start entertainingly too, before ending up going nowhere with a call/response crowd failure and Sting playing that ridiculous headless bass. That said, drummer Stewart Copeland, is one of the most entertaining interviewees.
Quote of the film has to go to one San Bernardino resident who, during a pre-festival meeting with the organisers and the locals, declares, “You’ve got nothing but Punk Rockers; the most dangerous group of people in this country!!”. Initially that’s hilarious, when you place that in comparison to the KKK, Republicans and serial killers. Given wider consideration though, it does suggest the fear that the populace had of the Punk subculture at that time.
Extras come in the shape of extended interviews with Wozniak, Copeland and (help us) Mick Fleetwood. There is also a ‘making of’ commentary from direct Aveni. Last bonus is that this is a double package with Blu-Ray and DVD discs.
Sure, musically there’s little to attract the average Punk here. However, those who are interested in music documentary in general should give this a go as it is a satisfying telling of this mega-corporate festival (incidentally, the second US Festival featured the last performance of THE CLASH with Mick Jones). (25.06.19)
Hit HERE for material reviewed prior to 2018 including:
Beijing Punk, Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall And Rebirth Of The Independent Record Shop, Positive Force: More Than A Witness