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Don Letts - Punk: Attitude [film] (Cover Artwork)

Don Letts

Don Letts: Punk: Attitude [film]Punk: Attitude [film] (2005)
Shout! Factory

Reviewer Rating: 2


Contributed by: eunomieunomi
(others by this writer | submit your own)

Punk: Attitude is one of many documentaries aiming to tell the entire story of punk rock through both narrative and sound bites from notable pundits. Others have tried this before. Others have failed. This one is no exception. What's notable for this attempt is not what is in it, but what is not. .
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Punk: Attitude is one of many documentaries aiming to tell the entire story of punk rock through both narrative and sound bites from notable pundits. Others have tried this before. Others have failed. This one is no exception. What's notable for this attempt is not what is in it, but what is not.

Clearly not a Ken Burns production, the film runs for just under an hour-and-a-half. Inherent in such a limited setting, it''s nearly impossible to wrap up four decades of shows, records, trends, ideology and fashion with any kind of authority and depth. Still, running length and pace are key decisions for any filmmaker.

Its most crucial aspect is immediately apparent: This film was made by a Brit, and there's a strong bias towards telling the British aspects of punk. It begins not with the story of the Doors or '60s garage rock, but with the British Invasion. The late '70s UK scene is thorough enough to thoroughly vet Malcolm McLaren's shop, the safety pin, the influence of reggae, and less famous bands like X-Ray Spex and Siouxsie and the Banshees. These are all important points, so what's the problem?

The problem is this limits what non-British moments are covered in the film. Here's a list of things not even mentioned once: Danny Fields, Pere Ubu, Little Johnny Jewel, Seymour Stein, Descendents, Hüsker Dü, Steve Albini, the evolution of indie rock, Touch and Go Records, and emo–including all eras thereof. The Screamers get more screen time. Embarrassingly, post-1978 American punk is barely summarized at all, and even then it leans heavily on the words of Henry Rollins, Keith Morris and Agnostic Front with barely a mention of SST between them. Worse, who gets screen time but Limp Bizkit.

Obviously, the film gets some things right. Among the talking heads are Glenn Branca, Chrissie Hynde, two of the founders of Punk magazine, and Jim Jarmusch. The eras that were radically faster and louder than their predecessors have shorter, faster-paced sequences with far more animated characters than other eras. The abovementioned semi-obscure aspects of British punk, for another. We should praise the film for these, and especially Rollins, who brings, arguably, the most punk aesthetic to the pundit clips.

While this film might be a good thing to pass onto your preteen nephew for an introduction, there are far better histories of punk out there. Some are even broadcast on VH1. For a film released in 2005, long after the publication of books like Please Kill Me, We Got the Neutron Bomb and Our Band Could Be Your Life, the shortcomings cannot be ignored.

 

 
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Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not respon sible for them in any way. Seriously.
KF84 (May 27, 2011)

" begins not with the story of the Doors or '60s garage rock, but with the British Invasion" wtf? how far do you want the docu to go back? Link Wray? Little Richard? Beethoven? This isn't a science

morbid (May 26, 2011)

I prefer dktd's review of this 6 year old documentary.

misterspike (May 25, 2011)

"Lesser known bands like X-Ray Spex and Siouxsie & The Banshees".

Lesser known? Siouxsie?

eatdogs (May 25, 2011)

i never thought i'd read pere ubu mentioned on this site. the modern dance and dub housing are excellent collections of great american post-punk. dig it...

dktd (May 25, 2011)

I think that's important to realise that this film was made by Don Letts - the man many credit with introducing the Jamaican influence into punk, steeped in UK punk history and a member of BAD. It's also important to note that this documentary is also called "Punk:ATTITUDE."

Arguably, what happened in America post the British punk movement was that the 'scene' was turned into a 'sound.' The end of the film is, of course, a disappointing end to what is, in my view, an otherwise bloody fine production. It revealse he doesn't really get what happened afterwards. What you, the reviewer are missing out, is the key words "Two Tone": they were punks playing ska. Crucially, however, the word "attitude" suggests that this film was about a punk attitude, and no other era in punk represented that as much as the UK scene in the late 70s: it was a real "fuck you", not just politically or socially, but musically as well. The variety and diversity in sound of that period is representative of that.

I love a lot of '80s, '90s and '00 punk, most of it American. But, apart from a handful of bands, the music behind the scene has generally turned into boring, insular repetition. That's not a punk attitude, really. The punk "idea" that stemmed from the late 60s (earlier, the 50s in Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, maybe?) in The Stooges and MC5 that transfered into that mid 70s thing in NYC, that then found root is what changed the world of music. And while the underground has changed our lives, you have to remind yourself that we are not the mainstream. We are, for better or worse, shockingly insular, selective, snobby and elitist. The attitude of punk went off in sporadic directions - post-punk, new wave, hardcore, much heavy metal, Two Tone, hip hop, grindcore, free Jazz, etc. As much as I love punk and the history of punk, it's a niche. When a a punk band becomes big nowadays, it is not because the mainstream is bending to its whim, but because the band is bending to the mainstreams whim.

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