Punk Rock is not as well served by film as it should be but here is a list of some of the stand out moments…
The Great Rock n Roll Swindle (1980)
Julian Temple directed and attempted to make sense of the complex, sprawling mess that was the Sex Pistols in this 1980 mockumentary that saw history severely rewritten by Malcolm Maclaren in an entertaining and messy romp.
Pretentious, overblown and full of holes and a film that works as a period piece- a celluloid antique of a long lost era, Rock n Roll Swindle is still oddly entertaining and there is some great footage of the Sex Pistols. If this was the moment where it all went wrong and the Pistols were turned from a dangerous and unpredictable band and into showbiz it still excels itself and it sees Malcolm McClaren’s faintly ridiculously and entertaining idea of the band and punk and spread over a messy, sprawling puke of a film that saw some brilliance from the young Temple in capturing all the loose and contradictory strands and ideas.
The 1984 film from Penelope Spheeris, the women behind the 1981 classic punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, as well as the Wayne’s World movie much later, is a bleak film about punk rock runaways living in a very different LA than the one we were sold.
This is a world of violence and desperation and, weirdly, a blueprint for the upcoming hardcore culture in the USA?
Rude Boy (1980)
There seems to be an unwritten rule that punk films are meant to be sprawling and messy and Rude Boy, the film built around the Clash is no exception to this. The 1980 British film directed by Jack Hazan and David Mingay and filmed in 1978 and early 1979 succeeds in reflecting back the damp tension of the UK at the time, with the band touring up and down the country with the warts and all glamour of the time. Full of beat up cars, seedy motel rooms and fantastic music- the film unintentionally gives you a very good idea of what touring with the Clash was like at the time with the backdrop of monochromatic uncertainty of a country coming apart at the seams.
Ladies and Gentleman The Fabulous Stains (1981)
Lou Adler’s 1981 film starring a youthful Laura Dern is now a dated period piece from the time and never released properly.The film has apparently became a staple for aspiring Riot Girls with the story of an all girl band struggling to make it and not sell out on the punk circuit. It also scores punk cred points with the all male punk band that they support, The Looters, being made up of Cook n Jones and Paul Simonon as well as a veru youthful Ray Winstone on vocals.
Derek Jarman’s 1978 film is as utterly ridiculous and campily bizarre as one of the several strands of early punk itself, Jubilee is a fascinating and ageing curio of the times and the reflection of one of the UK’s most imaginative film directors, Derek Jarman and his take on the punk phenomenon. Of course it is demented and totally warped with a loony script that sees a time traveling Elizabeth 1st, marauding gangs of punk women including the Slits and Siouxsie Sioux and makes little sense but is also priceless for having footage of the great Jordan, as well as the very first filmed appearance of Adam And The Ants which introduced the world to Adam with an electrifying strange performance and a film score by one Brian Eno….what’s not to like?
American Hardcore (2006)
Once punk kicked off in the USA it mutated into hardcore- a disparate and often very violent scene of feral energy and some oddly clear heard thinking that was again distorted into new shapes. American Hardcore is the documentary directed by Paul Rachman and written by Steven Blush. It is based on the book American Hardcore: A Tribal History also written by Blush. It was released on September 22, 2006 on a limited basis. The film makes sense of all this underground madness and the bands that created the bedrock for most of modern American rock from Minor Threat to Black Flag to the Bad Brains and tons of lesser lights interviewed and showcased in this fast and furious filmed document of a time when music meant something.
Punk Rock Movie (1978)
One of the key maxims in punk rock was Do It Yourself, instead of picking up a guitar, mate of the Clash and Pistols, Roxy club DJ and key scene face from his days running the Boy shop, Don Letts grabbed a camera and filmed the scene going on around him which just happened to be the 1976/77 punk explosion. Despite the fact that he had never filmed anything before he managed to capture a rare vital document of a scene that was quite literally exploding with energy and ideas.
End Of The Century : The Story Of The Ramones
At the end of this absorbing documentary on the Ramones it was almost impossible to work out if da brudders were totally dumb or putting it on or both. This is the story of the band and the complex and fucked up characters that created one of the most influential bands of all time. The film is endlessly fascinating and so full of contradictions that it is hard to believe that they managed to cram everything into such short, sharp shocks of songs…the film also comes with a killer sound track!
Fugazi saved American rock from itself and created an escape route for the hardcore generation trapped in the buzz saw frenetic assault of the underground scene. With their experimental amongst and fiercely independent attitude Fugazi created a new kind of band template and this 2003 film directed by Jem Cohen film captures their inspiring story.
Don Letts reexamined the punk scene in 2007 in an unintentional follow up to Punk Rock Movie. Letts slant on punk history was always going to be fascinating in that he was such a key player in the scene and his attempt to thread punk through to the present day, looking at punk rock as an attitude more than the music and seeing that energy bouncing through the generations in a series of interviews and footage is an interesting overview of the form.
Special mention goes to…
New York Doll
One of the saddest films ever made tells the story of their reunion through the eyes of their bass player Arthur ‘Killer’ Kane who beat the post band booze and drugs hell by working in a Mormon church before being swept back into the world of rock n roll by the reformed Dolls. It was a dream come true for the lanky bass player and his stumbling through rehearsals and gigs it compulsive watching
– with several great scenes including where he decides what to wear on stage being brilliant stuff.
New York Doll is a documentary based on the life of former New York Dolls member Arthur Kane. It was nominated for both a Satellite Award and a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered in 2005.
Whilst they made the film and just after his big comeback gig with the band at Morrissey’s Meltdown Killer Kane was diagnosed with cancer and died- it’s all captured in the film including priceless statements from his Mormon coworkers and an overall air of tragedy as the gentle Kane dies just after he achieved his lifelong ambition to be a Doll again.