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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Review: Punk Attitude - A Film By Don Letts

Don Letts is a fairly historic figure in punk history for single-handedly introducing reggae and dub to the nascent UK punk scene. In 1978 he put together The Punk Rock Movie, which boasts the production values of a Mexican snuff film. In 1995 he released Punk:Attitude, a beautifully assembled and fairly expansive overview of punk history. It's probably as objective as you can get for a genre that loathes objectivity. It leaves out some things, relies on unreliable sources and was led by the nose sometimes by available sources and footage, but all-in-all it's worthwhile and not a bad interpretation of history.

Punk is the most subjective of all genres. It insists it's "about something", anything can be punk as long as a self-proclaimed punk says it's punk and the people involved are many times the least mentally equipped to give honest assessments. Punk:Attitude repeatedly turns to Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra as authoritative sources. Jello is functionally insane and Henry is as bitter as raw horseradish. Having a lot of strong opinions doesn't make you an expert, especially when you have axes to grind. Jim Jarmusch is the most level-headed of the bunch and when he appears the film feels like a documentary and not a profile of talented kooks. The hook of the film is that punk is all about having an F.U. attitude, as if the music it grew out of didn't. Right.

The film's website claims "PUNK:ATTITUDE takes a highly original look at this movement." Actually it's very much like Volumes 8, 9 and 10 of Warners' History Of Rock and Roll, a truly great series from 1995. I wish the film dealt less with horrid cliches such as punk was a rebellion against the 20 minute guitar/keyboard solo and everybody at an early Sex Pistols/Ramones show started a band. While they may be true to an extent the ideas were beaten to death in the last ten punk documentaries I've seen. I also quickly tired of everyone saying this and that was "punk rock". My favorite was "The Internet is a punk idea".

Punk:Attitude could have been new and innovative in a field of study stuck in the same old punchlines, but it's not possible when everyone has an agenda. I'm convinced only a true outsider can make the definitive punk documentary. Up till now they've mostly been alike and about as objective as the Manson Girls on Charlie. It has to be somebody outside the scene who can sort through the lies, propaganda and self-promotion.

Siouxsie Sioux is aging into Al Lewis. John Cale looks like he could pick up a truck. John Cooper Clarke appears to have the same clothes, glasses and hair he did almost 30 years ago. It's like a Batman villain aimed a prune ray at him. Put a mullet wig on poor Mick Jones and he could play Riff-Raff in Rocky Horror. David Johansen looks like an old transvestite ape (no offense). I want to rub Howard Devoto's massive, shiny and perfectly round head for luck. Captain Sensible looks healthy. So does Steve Jones. Ari Up is nuts but she has that Jewish Rasta Hippie thing down to a science.


Blogger Sean Pelette said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:13 PM

Blogger Sean Pelette said...

I also quickly tired of everyone saying this and that was "punk rock". My favorite was "The Internet is a punk idea".


9:17 PM

Blogger Robert G. said...

For years, I've been waiting for someone to convince me that the "DIY" "punk" attitude is in any way unique to the genre.

Anybody who's read anything about the early years of the English prog scene could tell you that the attitude wasn't much different: bands often recorded their own cheapo demos, put together their own show stagings on a shoestring budget and generally slogged it out. The two principal differences were that they didn't sneer in a reactionary way at the craft of musicianship, or make such an effort to cover up their non-working-class backgrounds (exhibit A: the late fagmaster and Old Boy John Mellor, aka J. Strummer).

And BTW, in recent years, I've read that post-rock was both the new punk and the new progressive. Go figure.

9:12 AM


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