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Review. Movie plus DVD extras

PUNK:attitude - A Film By Don Letts
PUNK:attitude is a 2 disc DVD, presented in a specially designed collectors case complete with a limited edition of issues 1 and 7 of Sniffin Glue. Includes an interactive punk family tree and a ‘Where are they now?’ section. US version has different sleeve and limited edition of issue 7 of Sniffin Glue.
DVD Release date: US September 6 (Capital Entertainment). UK October 3 (Fremantle Home Entertainment)


PUNK:attitude - A Film By Don Letts
Running Time: 90 minutes
Premiered 9th July 2005, IFC

What does punk mean? Different things to different people, with one constant: attitude. Using its starting point as Marlon Brando, PUNK:attitude traces the history of this attitude through to the present day. The film rightfully ropes in the emergence of rock 'n' roll in the 50s, the UK 60s invasion, and the hippie movement of which Steve Jones remarks "was just as punk rock as anything" with their anti-establishment stance.

The film highlights the cross pollination of UK and US influences, with the most astute movers and shakers of both countries latching on to happenings on the other side of the pond. In addition to the more obvious names in the frame, (MC5, Iggy, New York Dolls etc) others to get a welcome name check are The Doors, The Dictators (the first New York punk band?), and The Screamers from LA.

Regarding the punk rock explosion itself, an element of envy still comes across from the New York camp at the impact and success of punk in the UK. Perhaps they need to accept that without the UK scene, many of the NYC bands would have forever languished in a forgotten corner of rock 'n' roll. Paul Simonon and Mick Jones both in fact cite the UK glam artists of the early 70s, such as Bowie and Mott The Hoople, as their major influences.

Much of the footage for this period is familiar, but then again, what else out there remains unseen? I defy anyone to say they have seen it all; I particularly enjoyed clips of the MC5 and The Dictators.

What makes this film vital is the interviewees. Don has assembled an impressive cast, all of whom deliver articulate points of view; some which differ, but all are worthy. The incubation and emergence of punk is informed by amongst others; Glen Matlock, Chrissie Hynde, Tommy Ramone, Siouxsie Sioux, David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, Arthur Kane, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Poly Styrene, film maker Jim Jarmusch, the aforementioned Simonon and the two Joneses (Steve and Mick). Wayne Kramer and MC5 manager John Sinclair are both insightful and concise in their recollections of the magnificent MC5's philosophy and career.

Don Letts takes the story beyond the 76 - 79 framework. The impact of the UK's indie output on the US, in particular that of Rough Trade, is acknowledged. Most of the action from this point switches to the US where punk began its development into the massive industry it is today. No Wave; Hip Hop ("punk was embarrassed by riches, hip hop went for gold"); Hardcore ("purist" punk), are all featured as part of the timeline. Spare a thought for groups such as Agnostic Front, who helped keep the US punk scene alive during its wilderness period in the late 80s, but who were simply too unpalatable to receive the support needed to make it outside their own sphere. Others however, would benefit….

This heritage finally manifested itself in Nirvana, who it is pointed out had taken on board all lessons of the past, synthesizing 10 years of underground music into a form digestible by the masses. It's also pointed out, with a degree of mirth, that in the eye of the major record companies, this was the point at which punk rock happened! The world domination of Green Day and the glut of other similar US bands, like Blink 182, all of which followed in the wake of Nirvana, is tainted by remarks of some of the old school observers like Jello Biafra, who believes they are punk inspired rock bands, and notes that bands now want to be part of the establishment. He has a point. Concluding in a more positive vein, the attitude is still alive today in forms such as art, the internet, and Michael Moore movies.

So what does punk mean? Marco Pirroni best sums it up: it proved to people that what they thought was impossible, was possible.

PUNK:attitude is a 90 minute roller coaster ride. With a huge amount to cover, Don's done a superb job. The story is delivered as a series of rapid punches, which will make you re-watch it time and again to take it all in. It is supplemented by a vast soundtrack taking in Sex Pistols, The Clash, Ramones, Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith, Velvet Underground, Dead Kennedys, X-Ray Spex, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, to name but a few.

Coming at you with the ferocity of a machine gun, this is the alternative history of rock 'n' roll.

Review by Phil Singleton (July '05)

PUNK:attitude DVD Extras (Disc 2)

Disc Two: Henry Rollins Interview / Dave Goodman Feature / Fanzines / Fashion / Women In PUNK / Record Companies / The Attitude - Spirit of PUNK / The influence - Origins of Punk / PUNK on Culture and the Arts / UK Verses the US / Punk Evolution / The Gigs - Performance
Additional US only extras: California Screamin': "Behind the Masque" (CD-ROM) / LA Punk (short film by Dick Rude).

The second disc of extras comprises of 12 segments, expanding on themes touched on during the film, giving different aspects of punk further indepth coverage. Here is a brief selection of some of the highlights from each feature. These interviews, filmed by Don Letts, act as a superb accompanying addition to the main feature. Approximate running time 140mins.

Henry Rollins Interview. Henry Rollins is truly passionate about music and punk, "my ship has come in." He mourns the lack of a modern equivalent but notes "the revolution continues, the revolution will be televised." Henry discusses the growth of punk in DC and the network that grew in the US. The influence of UK punk on him was immense and he cites the Buzzcocks as the best live band he's seen. The experience of The Clash also left him stunned. Henry is a brilliant, intense orator, entertaining. "If you have to ask, then you're never gonna get it." (10 mins)

Dave Goodman Feature. Although unused in the final cut, this footage must have been the last time Dave appeared before a camera. Dave's involvement with the Pistols began when they needed a cheap PA and Dave was working for an agency supplying PAs. His first involvement was on the night the Pistols supported the 101'ers, the show that changed Joe Strummer's life. On a good night, the Pistols were the best band in the universe. He refers to Spunk as "the first Sex Pistols album really". He acknowledges that Malcolm McLaren had an awareness of anti-establishment history. The Pistols "brought music back to the people." (15 mins)

Fanzines. John Savage states their importance was because they were written by those that liked the groups. Hilly Kristal (CBGBs), Nigel House (Rough Trade), Marco Pirroni, all pay tribute to Sniffin' Glue. US fanzine, Punk, is credited as crystalising the name "punk". Bob Gruen, Legs McNeil, and John Holstrom all discuss the magazine's birth. (11 mins)

Fashion. Roberta Bailey, Bob Gruen, talk about Richard Hell, and his idea of deconstructing his clothes, and Malcolm McLaren being taken by the idea. However Phillip Salon and Glen Matlock both said the look came from John Lydon. Jello Biafra says even though Richard Hell gets the credit, the spiky hair look came from the Pistols and their fans. Chrissie Hynde and & Marco Pirroni both champion the importance of Vivien Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Both Glen & Marco describe the "You're gonna wake up in the morning...." T-shirt and the importance of its "us & them" statement. (9 mins)

Women In Punk. Poly Styrene recalls how punk enabled her to form a band. "Punk was for anybody" states Paul Simonon. Siouxsie Sioux: "Punk had the first attitudes that empowered women." The significance of Patti Smith is acknowledged. Ari Up states that The Slits were the first girl group to do everything on their own without male input. However, Siouxsie also laments that there were not actually that many girl bands that made it. (9 mins)

Record Companies. Although initially scared, as soon as money was there to be made, the record companies were on to it. The importance of the Buzzcocks is again noted with the release of the Spiral Scratch ep. Howard Devoto & Pete Shelley talk about Spiral Scratch. (6 mins)

The Attitude / Spirit of PUNK. Steve Jones: "Punk is rock 'n' roll. The word punk rock was given to rock 'n' roll at a certain stage…the big picture is rock 'n' roll." Glen Matlock: "Punk is a questioning attitude. It's reading between the lines. It's not accepting what you're told. It's nothing to do with music." To others however, it is more spiritual. "Fuck you to corporations" announces Jello Biafra. "Different for each person" says Sylvain Sylvain which is an accurate summary. Paul Simonon: "It's down to the individuals". (8 mins)

The Influence / Origins of PUNK. This is a topic that is covered comprehensively during the film. In this segment Wayne Kramer (MC5) describes the frustration at the slow pace of change. Steve Jones talks about Bowie, Roxy Music, The Faces, and The Sweet, groups that didn't remind him of the toilet he was living in with his parents. Glen Matlock was inspired by music played by pirate radio. Paul Simonon gives his thoughts on influences as diverse as Charles Dickens and Two Tone. David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain, and Arthur Kane reveal the influences of New York Dolls. Howard Devoto reveals a dark side as well… (12 mins)

PUNK on Culture and the Arts. As Paul Simonon says, "There were a lot of people outside music that were influences." This forms the thrust of the section. DIY, graffiti artists, painters, and film making. Listen for more well informed points by Wayne Cramer, and Jim Jarmusch who, like Don Letts, was inspired to pick up a movie camera because of punk. (7 mins)

UK Verses the US. Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) describes the impact of seeing a picture of the Pistols at the 100 Club. The Pistols were his age, whereas the NYC bands were a little older. Sylvain Sylvain recalls his first meeting with McLaren in New York 1971, thereby introducing him to the New York Dolls years before they walked into his shop on the King's Road. They were also unaware of the impact their appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test had on kids in the UK. This section does not seek to debate whether UK or US punk is better, or first etc, but gives different experiences from the different sides of the pond. Steve: "I'm not taking anything away from the NYC bands, there were some good bands… they were all doing their own thing." Then there is the UK business of gobbing… (11 mins)

PUNK Evolution. No-one liked the term New Wave states Thurston Moore, as the industry put forward the acceptable face of punk. This is turn led to a hardcore alternative. Jello Biafa is passionate about this topic and concludes punk today is an entertainment term, the only surpise being that it took so long to break huge in the US. Paul Simonon talks about the evolution of the look of The Clash from skinhead and Jamaican ingredients. (10 mins)

The Gigs/Performance. Glen Matlock recalls booking the Pistols' first gig at St Martin's School of Art, and supporting Screaming Lord Such at High Wycombe, which due to John's microphone smashing antics, lead to the 100 Club bookings. The two Manchester Free Trade Hall Buzzcocks shows are recalled by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto. Poly Styrene recalls The Roxy Club as a place of undesirables. As for gobbing, Poly blames Paul Simomon for starting it; Paul blames The Damned! Glen recalls the time Led Zeppelin came down to check out the punk scene, with John Bonham embarrassing himself watching The Damned (10 mins)

The PUNK sound. Reggae, especially the lyrics which spoke a common language coupled with its toughness, are seen as vitally important to Paul Simonon. Captain Beefheart is mentioned. Steve Jones remarks: "No one will ever sound like the Pistols or The Clash, those that try are boring. But when you don't have insight, all you do is copy." (8 mins)

LA Punk (short film by Dick Rude). Available on the US Region 1 release only. This film has no connection with Don Letts and is of far more relevance to a US audience, hence its inclusion on the US edition. Among those contributing are John Doe (X), Mike Watt (The Minutemen), Bob Mothersbaugh (Devo), and John Denny (The Weidos). They discuss why the LA scene was largely overlooked, partly due to the focus on the UK and New York, and also because those outside the city thought LA was an area of sun and wealth, had nothing to complain about and therefore no right to a punk scene. The importance of The Masque Club in LA is viewed as crucial to the local bands. It's noted that there was a lack of a clear leader on the scene which was due to the diversity of the bands. Black Flag would emerge and change all that. Black Flag are hailed as the most important group, taking punk out of LA and around the USA, creating a circuit that still exists today. (22 mins)

"Behind the Masque" (CD-ROM). Available on the US Region 1 release only. PDF text file telling the story of The Masque LA punk club.

Review by Phil Singleton (August '05)

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