Punk's Not Dead
July 27th, 2007
It's hard to say exactly why punk rock is having a resurgence of interest of late, especially in the realm of documentary cinema. Susan Dynner's "Punk's Not Dead" doesn't differentiate itself much from Don Letts's 2005 film "Punk: Attitude," often using many of the same talking heads covering many of the same topics.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing. Letts’s film comes from an insider’s knowledge of the punk rock world, having been a part of the punk explosion in London in the mid 1970s as a DJ and direct influence on such bands as The Clash. Dynner too was a part of the punk scene, on the East Coast of the United States several years later, but more as a fan and eventually a photographer capturing the scene for posterity. With different points of references, the two films go wildly down different paths, even if they come to many of the same conclusions.
Let’s face facts; trying to encapsulate the punk rock movement is a futile effort regardless. Trying to cover thirty years of history in less than 100 minutes is a travesty. While Dynner covers and speaks with many of the bands that Letts didn’t, there are still a number of artists that deserve at least some attention. Dynner gives John Doe and his band X get a few seconds of airtime, but what about the other great Los Angeles punk bands of the late 1970s? Where are The Angry Samoans and The Weirdos and The Dickies? Why do The Germs get nothing more than a quick shot of Darby Crash on stage? For New York, of course The Ramones get some face time, but what about The Misfits and The Dictators? Why no mention at all of Richard Hell, who is widely recognized as an instigator of the punk look, having been the first to spike his hair and wear torn, cut and drawn-on shirts? Even Malcolm McLaren (whom also gets no love from Dynner) has stated Hell was part of the inspiration for the Sex Pistols' look and attitude, as well as the punk clothing McLaren sold in his London clothing store with Vivienne Westwood (also absent here).
The list of major omitted punk artists from “Punk’s Not Dead” could go on for quite a while, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of Dynner’s film. Her argument, as the title clearly states, is that the punk movement still lives to this day. The fatal flaw in this logic, though, is the assumption that punk is an easily identifiable organized movement instead of a complicated aesthetic. Punk isn’t about the clothes and shoes you wear or the number of pierces and tattoos you have or even what bands you listen to. Letts had it right the first time: Punk is an attitude. Punk is rebelling against the status quo because the status quo has left you behind.
More than anything else, “Punk’s Not Dead” feels like a Valentine to Dynner’s favorite bands, not that this is a bad thing. She’s clearly got some good taste in punk bands, but she spends an inordinate amount of time covering the U.K. Subs, a decent if rather minor outfit, time that could have been better spent covering punk during the 80s, which the film quickly reports went deep underground so it can get back to talking to the Subs, despite evidence to the contrary, such as the movie “Repo Man” and its legendary soundtrack, featuring Black Flag, Burning Sensations, The Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies, none of whom (outside of the always interesting blabbermouth Henry Rollins) get even the faintest of love from Dynner.
Yet, despite my reservations and the lack of interest in the punk bands I grew up with, I still love “Punk’s Not Dead” so. It’s well-paced and brings forth a number of punk tales seldom heard before. Punk might not be dead, but it sure has seen better days.
My rating: B