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.