LIGTHS, CAMERA, REVOLUTION







THE ESSENTIAL 
PUNK 
MOVIES









DEREK JARMAN: Jubilee (1977)

The importance and influence of film, both as audiovisual communication and l'art pour l'art, can not be exaggerated in a world where motion pictures and a steady stream of Hollywood gossip are among the dearest forms of entertainment. 

Even back in the days when all the fun you would get was a black and white mute slapstick cabaret in grainy picture quality, people ran off to the cinema like flies to dirt. If these hybrid of circus, pantomime, theater and freak show rose far above being dirt, it was at least a poor and primitive experience compared to the contemporary version. 

Nonetheless, even at a such early stage of development of craftsmanship and art form, it was a formidable success. We can presume that a reasonable explanation owes some debts to the unique aesthetic and narrative qualities of this (multi)medium, arguably the one that comes closest to the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk of German composer Richard Wagner(1813-83). No wonder some smart ass suggested that the Wagner of today had made movies, not operas.

Any kind of film is each an independent work of art. The most extreme examples of movie productions made with a very specific purpose, like for instance the Nazi propaganda outlet of Leni Riefenstahls, Triumph of the Will (1934) for the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, is possible to watch and interpret merely on the basis of its own given terms, even though it originally only served the function of a tool or mouthpiece for a certain “higher goal” outside the limits of the film scroll, video tape or DVD. 

A documentary may help to promote or present the respective subject or purpose, either in a positive or negative way, though it may fine be valuated in the total absence of this relation to the exterior world.  Nevertheless, it should be fair to admit it has been a considerable and crucial channel for individual objects, subjects and phenomenons throughout the entire history of film. Not at least if we turn the focus on the various fields of art and cultural expression.


PENELOPE SPHEERIS:Decline...(1981)


Needless to say, the L'Enfant terrible of music, derived from rhythm & blues and gospel, rock n roll, had barely crawled out of the cradle before all the lenses and microphones of the media world were all over it. It has been a close companion to rock music since the humble beginning of BILL HALEY & THE COMETS breakthrough in the notorious Richard Brooks movie, Blackboard Jungle (1955). ELVIS PRESLEY was involved in nothing less than 31 motion picture( Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, Blue Hawaii etc.), and is still the artist during rock history whose career has been most dependent on the helping hand of Hollywood. THE BEATLES had of some important film, A Hard Days Night, Help!,Yellow Sub Marine, Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be, while ROLLING STONES probably had the most credible ones, like Sympathy For The Devil (1968) by the French master Jean Luc Godard or Performance (1970) by the ex girlfriend of several members of the band, Anita Pallenberg. Speaking on the STONES on film, It would be unfair not to mention Gimme Shelter (Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, 1970).

                                      

PAUL RACHMANN:American Hardcore(2007)



The rock documentary is often some kind of audiovisual collage of recorded sequences of media, stills and images that altogether forms a history of a past and motion picture; staged interviews,concert or studio session footage, official video, television appearances/interviews, dramatized inserts or samples from other various sources. You could say that This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner,1984) also brought along the mockumentary genre into the universe of rock movies. The documentary is the form that comes closest to realism and the expressive ideal where the gap between the representation and reality limit down to the minimum, hence a medium of truth and honesty. A tiny window into the real material world, free of the scripts, the styling/make up and choreography. Nevertheless, one should bear in mind the fact that the already mentioned Triumph Of The Will, by many regarded as a "perfect documentary", was basically constructed carefully by Rifenstahl, probably having both Goebbles and Hitler watching over her shoulders.

A subcategory of the musical documentary is the concert movie, typically featuring the total playtime of one specific unique live concert. The most stand out example of this genre is probably the brilliant The Song Remains the Same (Cilfton/Massot ,1976 ), depicting the rock gods LED ZEP in a glorious vigorous momentum in their career. Woodstock (1970) is another classic of the same kind, a film that manages to capture the dubious atmosphere of Flower Power, rapidly fading out of what was dubbed as "the summer of love", cross fading with the creeping feeling of shattered faith and the uneasy sense of what is yet to come.

Unlike the documentary or concert movie, the feature film is most often dramatized fiction. Thus it also has an entirely other focus than the artist and the respective music. The artist participates on the mere basis of being an actor like everybody else, whose part can be more or less essential to the story and narrative display. It can, to exemplify with DAVID BOWIE, go from the lead character in The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg,1976) to the 1 short entrance in David Lynch and Mark Frost infamous Twin Peaks series.
 


Another variation of genre is the dramatized film where the artist play the role as himself, the music artist and stage performer. In the spectacle of punk motion picture, you had RICHARD HELL playing himself in Uli Lommels The Blank Generation, which also gives name to one of the first movie productions in the history of punk, a documentation of the early NY scene, centered around the club CBGBs made by Ivan Kral and Amos Poe in 1976.

In what I personally rank as one of the highest achievements of the movies related to the punk topic, Jubilee(1977) made by the deceased movie prodigy Derek Jarman(1942-94), also known and cherished as the maker of the motion picture Caravaggio, based on the life of the Italian art giant, as well as the two terrific music videos of THE SMITHS, "The Queen Is Dead" and "There Is A Light(That Never Goes Out)". Here Jarman knots together an extraordinary movie,telling the tale of the British 1600-1700 Queen Elizabeth I, who one day asks her spiritual adviser, astrologist, occultist and magician John Dee of a future vision of her future England. He takes her forward to 1977, to a quite different country and society than she ruled in her days. He uses some key members from the already exploding punk scene UK, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, CHELSEA and ADAM & THE ANTS, as well as the very entertaining presence of a pre-op WAYNE COUNTY and also Punk model Jordan. 

The Great Rock N Roll Swindle(1980) is, in form and content,  the strangest and most ambitious attempts to this day at capturing the true essence of punk on film. The movie was mainly a collaboration between Julien Temple and Malcolm McLaren.Originally, it starts out as some sort of mockumentary, but the narrative language breaks now and then the structure with most kind of genres of film: Fictive ads for foolish SP products like the "Vicious Burger", fetish porn, footage from their hookup with train robber Ronald Biggs in Rio, exerts of live shows from from 100 Club/Roxy Club i 1977, S/M scenes from the abandoned Roger Egbert and Russ Meyer SP cartoon movie project, Who Killed Bambi?.  

Not forgetting, of course, the classic music videos with SID VICIOUS, at his ultimate peak, scratching his crotch only wearing a minimal underpants with a swastika, riding his motor bike, gunning down old folks at the opera, the stuff that ought to stir up some kind of fuzz. Mclaren knew they were in need of something spectacular, to fill in the void of ROTTENs demise from the band. In fact, the whole movie as a project should also be read bearing this in mind though the film certainly has a real substance apart from that. Fuck the critics and the pissed idealists who defy to acknowledge they have been fooled once again, Great Rock N Roll Swindle is a must see for any individual interested in revisiting the original spirit of punk. The incident of irony enters the picture as the very same Julian Temple joined forces with the post-PIL edition of John Lydon, slowly approaching the desperate state of a has-been, and his ex-comrades in PISTOLS to produce the weightiest contribution to the punk revisionism,The Filth & Fury(2000). Needless to say, this is an equally important work to be familiar with if you want to dive into the various layers of the punk phenomenon.

The trilogy of "Rock N Roll anthropologist" Penelope Spheeris, Decline Of the Western Civilization, a title that primary refers to the thoughts of Oswald Spengler, more specifically his 1918-22 work  The Decline of the West (Der Untergang des Abendlandes), is a personal fave highly recommended. From the almost religiously perceived footage of the LA punk scene(1979), including BLACK FLAG,CIRCLE JERKS,X,THE GERMS(with the infamous DARBY CRASH interview) etc, to the hilarious portrait of the Glam rock and heavy metal scene in LA(1988) and rounding it off by the more serious and a bit worrying social realism of youth squatters among the newer generations of punk(1997). The third concluding part is vaguely hinted at already in her first feature film, Suburbia of 1983. Other works of relevance to the understanding of Spheeris´s take on rock culture and its prophetic Faustian value, are the fictions Dudes (1987) and Wayne´s World(1992) and also We Sold Our Souls to Rock N Roll(1999). Story has it, confirmed on the official page of the LA director/producer, that she was offered direction of This Is Spinal Tap but turned it down because she thought it would not be possible to make fun of heavy metal(sic!?!).

I do not have time or space enough for lengthy comments on every film worth seeing somehow related to punk and hardcore, so I have to minimize my selection and jump fast forward, trying to keep in mind picking out examples in a qualitative variety in regards to the different genres of film. 

Concert movies and punk as musical genre, technically as with attention to the levels of decibel, will not necessarily work as good, at least not in full time, as LED ZEP in The Song Remains the Same or SADEs San Diego's Open Air Theater concert released on video as Sade - Live Concert Home Video (1993). However, there a a few exceptions, and I am pretty sure my first pick would have to be the Minor Threat at DC Space/Buff Hall/9:30 Club official Discord video of 1983. Astonishingly crisp quality for a video production of those days to be, most have costed a small fortune just to rent all that equipment with several cameras filming at once with more than just one man on more or less steady-cam. The video remains pure magic in my eyes and all ears. As with Never Mind the Bollocks...by PISTOLS, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables by DEAD KENNEDY´S and the KJØTT 12", this is audio(visual) explosives for an already flaming youth

The effect of the virgin peak should really be transferable to the artificial chemical extreme high, it almost explodes before your eyes as MINOR THREAT hits on with the first chords of "Stand Up". The band shows a rare endurance for the fast and aggressive pace in their music, playing through the whole discography of the band in one single concert. Taking the response of the public into consideration, you will eventually see a possible explanation for such a extraordinary performance. Everybody jumps into all directions as soon as the beat kicks off, slam dancing and stage diving, fingers and palms in the air and it also seems like everybody know all songs by heart. 

I have always been a huge fan of the NEW YORK DOLLS, such a big fan that I am capable of finding joy in whatever artifact they play some part in. Bob Gruens All Dolled Up: A New York Dolls Story(2007) will not fail to entertain those who are bound to appreciate any given footage of the band; hilarious interviews from back in the days, live shots, hang outs at dodgy NY establishments etc. If your fan-hood of the band is somewhat more normalized than mine, you should probably rather spend your time and money on the tender real life story of ex-NEW YORK DOLLS bassist ARTHUR "KILLER" KANE in New York Doll (Grey Whitley,2005), who managed to attain the long awaited NYD reunion show of 2004, organized by the life long diehard fan of the band, MORRISSEY, right before he died of cancer.


Paul Rachmans documentary American Hardcore(2007)  should be mandatory for everybody who claims affiliation with punk and hardcore. Mainly because it is packed with essential information, interviews, legendary footage from main events, all the big names, quotes and basically all the exerts one could ask for as a newborn fan of this music, a birthday and Christmas present rolled into one, for the hardcore punk geek.


The Blank Generation  (Ivan Kral/Amos Poe,1976)
Jubilee (Derek Jarman,1977)
Crash & Burn (Ross McLaren,1977)
The Last Pogo (Colin Brunton,1978)
The Punk Rock Movie  (Don Letts,1978)
Punk In England  (Wolfgang Buld, 1978)
Rock 'n' Roll High School  (Allan Arkush,1979)
The Great Rock N Roll Swindle  (Temple/McLaren,1980)
Rude Boy   (Hazan / Mingay,1980)
Blank Generation   (Ulli Lommel, 1980)
D.O.A: A Rite of Passage  (Lech Kowalski,1980)
Times Square (Allan Moyle,1980)
The Decline of Western Civilization  (Penelope Spheeris,1981)
Urban Struggle  (1981)
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains  (Lou Adler,1981)
Urgh! A Music War  (Derek Burbidge,1982)
Smithereens  ( Susan Seidelman, 1982)
Ebba The Movie  (Johan Donner,1982)
Suburbia  (Penelope Spheeris,1981)
Minor Threat Live at the 9:30 Club  (Dischord,1983)
Sid & Nancy  (Alex Cox,1984)
Another State Of Mind  (Small / Stuart,1984)
Dead Kennedys Live in San Francisco  (1984)
X - The Unheard Music  (W.T Logan,1986)
Thrashin (David Vinters,1986)
Dudes  (Penelope Spheeris,1987)
Straight To Hell   (Alex Cox, 1987)
Christ the Movie (Mike Duffield,1990)
1991: The Year Punk Broke   (Dave Markey,1992)
Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (Todd Phillips,1994)
The Decline of Western Civilization III (Penelope Spheeris,1998)
Thunders, Johnny - Dead Or Alive (2000)
The Filth and The Fury   (Julien Temple,2000)
Rage - 20 Years of Punk Rock, West Coast Style  (2001)
24 Hour Party People  (Michael Winterbottom,2002)
Afro-Punk  (James Spooner, 2003)
End of the Century : The Story of The Ramones  (Fields/Gramaglia,2003)
New York Doll   (Greg Whitely,2005)
We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen (Tim Irwin,2005)
King Of Punk   ( Kenneth van Schooten/Julie van Schooten,2007) 
There Is No Authority But Yourself  (Alexander Oey,2006) 
All Dolled Up: A New York Dolls Story  (Bob Gruen,2007)
The Day The Country Died  (2007)
American Hardcore  (Paul Rachman,2006)
Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten  (Julien Temple,2000)
Punk´s Not Dead   (Susan Dynner,2007)
What We Do Is Secret   (Roger Grossman,2008)
CBGB: Punk from the Bowery
Refused Are Fucking Dead  (Kristofer Steen,2006)
Patti Smith: Dreams of Life (Steven Sibring,2008) 
The Clash: Westway to the World  (Don Letts,2008)
Who Killed Nancy?  (Alan G. Parker,2009)
the Runaways (Floria Sigismondi,2010)

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