(1978)2.5Fred BeldinIn every metropolitan city of the United States (and plenty of smaller burgs) there can be found young people who turn to the era documented in The Punk Rock Movie for their fashion sense, musical tastes, and overall cultural identity. There's one in every decade and punk was it, joining hippie, beatnik, and slacker as youth culture symbols that the old folks pondered and feared. It was too nasty to make money for the corporations at the time, so it had to age, but now the look, sound, and ethos can be had for the price of a t-shirt and a K-Tel collection. Luckily, Don Letts, an artist and musician, was there in the arch, art-damaged London scene back when punk was still thought to be dangerous (the truth of this notion can be endlessly debated). The Punk Rock Movie appears to be Letts' own home movies with sound and color, live performances spliced together with candid backstage footage to provide the feeling of joining the inner circle of some legendary bands. Highlights include the Slits sharing a comb at band practice, Generation X (featuring a young Billy Idol) primping and harmonizing together backstage, Siouxsie and the Banshees swapping vitamins, and some desperate speed freaks booting up for the camera. Nothing is punker than the terrifying energy of the teenage Eater, who spit out "You Got No Brains" with genuine malice, then attack a butchershop pig's head with knives. The older, wiser New York City scene is represented by the Heartbreakers and the ridiculous drag queen theatrics of Wayne County Electric Chairs. Skin is painted, pierced, and razored, the hair is either mangled or lovingly crafted into spikes. Swastikas are proudly displayed and bondage is style. Ganja is smoked, dub is appreciated, and Alternative TV takes reggae lessons from a helpful Rastafarian. Lengthy footage of volatile performances by the Clash and the Sex Pistols -- both in ragged but righteous form -- bookend the film, and Johnny Rotten petulantly destroys a tape recorder for the camera as the credits roll. Toward the end of the '90s, this essential collection became increasingly easy to find as a value-priced video cassette release in a variety of conservative discount chain stores that would never have stocked punk rock during its turbulent early years. This level of availability proves that the Sex Pistols have finally entered the mainstream consciousness and occupy their place on the shelf right next to Pink Floyd.
Musician and filmmaker Don Letts made this Super 8 documentary of the London punk rock scene in 1977. Shot mostly at the Roxy, a short-lived punk club that hosted every important rock band in the neighborhood, The Punk Rock Movie captures an exciting moment in the development of some artists that are still imitated and adulated today. While the Sex Pistols and the Clash are likely to be the most familiar names in attendance, The Punk Rock Movie spends plenty of time on some legendary acts that never licked the same brass ring. Fans of the under-documented Johnny Thunders will want to see the footage of the Heartbreakers live on tour in England. Siouxsie & the Banshees, X-Ray Spex, and Eater are other notable rockers who are seen in rare early performances. Backstage revelry and tour bus boredom is preserved as well, with the dark side represented by unflinching scenes of drugs and self-abuse. Most of the film is live, loud, breakneck rock, featuring some energetic footage of the Sex Pistols at the height of their hype and the Clash set for stun and gathering its army.