I’ve lost count to how many documentaries about music in general, and punk or metal in particular, I’ve seen over the last 10 years. I mean, how about leaving something to the imagination? It’s great to know there is plenty of footage of G.G. Allin’s dick out there, but do I really need to know everything about each shitty or even good band in the whole world? How much is enough and where does it stop?
Sure, I used to be in love with L7’s not-sure-if-it’s-metal-or-punk-or-grunge and “Bricks are heavy” more than anything, and in the 90s it was a real turn-on to see girls rocking, because even if there were a lot of good female bands around, you really weren’t aware of it, because shit didn’t fly around over the internet all the time as it does nowadays. So maybe I don’t really know a lot about L7, except probably what I saw on Headbangers Ball, but 20 years on should I really care to know more than what I have experienced for all these years?
It’s the same with Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna “The punk singer” which, for me, is way more personal than it needed to be, and well, I do have a problem with deifying people, even when I’m the one doing it, because that is already current practice in the mainstream. And since we, as counter culture or alternative culture or whatever the fuck punk and metal stuff is called now, are supposedly on the wrong side of the tracks, which is really the right side of the tracks, maybe we should be the first ones to stop glorifying everyone and everything for whatever reason.
Which leads me to “Gimme Danger,” Jarmusch’s doc about The Stooges. By now even my parents know who Iggy Pop is, and even if he hasn’t really lost any sex appeal – the last time I saw The Stooges live I was the one feeling old and like I was needing hip replacement surgery – “Gimme Danger” brings nothing new to the table and it’s just another movie about how shit was truer back in the day, and we’ve sure got enough of those to go around. Or maybe I’m just jaded by seeing way too many music documentaries, but I do remember a time when I went out of my way to watch music movies, even if I wasn’t a particular fan of the band or genre in question. Then, all of a sudden, every little thing became a research subject and you started to have movies about aging punk rock dads, in which the term “punk” is thrown around way too loosely. Nothing against Pennywise or NOFX, since I like both bands, but these guys have money and they’re not exactly living the punk rock life. There’s also bands thrown into the mix that don’t belong, like Red Hot Chili Peppers, whom I also like, but, at least now, have nothing to do with punk-rock no matter how many times Flea played with Fear.
There was also “Salad Days,” which for me pretty much killed the whole Dischord thing, because those guys came off too pedantic for my taste. Their early stuff is perfect and it would have kept the mystic quality if that documentary didn’t exist, or at least if it was made in a different way. I can’t say the same about Metallica’s “Some Kind Of Monster,” because, at least since that Napster freak-out, I’m guessing everyone stopped thinking those guys were cool. And even though I’m still completely hooked on their first four LPs to this day, it was perfect to see how they’re just a bunch of yuppies on leather pants and all that crying, pissing and moaning about ego trips and money. Regarding Nirvana – not that I have anything against them – but I’m not even going to talk about all the media trying to sell Cobain as the anti-hero voice of a generation.
Fortunately, there’s also the Descendents and Minutemen movies, and shit like “Heavy Metal Parking Lot,” “Decline of the Western Civilization,” “Punk” or “Lemmy” – but those are the fucking classics and no matter what Refused says, they don’t go out of style, otherwise they wouldn’t be a comeback band.
I also remember how great and emotional “Dazed” was and I can’t help myself from watching documentaries about Black Metal, of which “Until The Light Takes Us” is a total hard-on. And even though both digress somewhat from the subject, the same goes for “Angola Death Metal” and “Punk in Africa” and, to some extent “Heavy Metal in Baghdad.” Still, most of those are about a reality very different from our own and expose us to stuff that we probably wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. That and the fact that they’re not US- or UK-based and that extreme music scenes from uncommon places are usually more interesting.
Even Portugal has had its share of music documentaries, mainly about punk-rock and all of them centered on the same period and bands, which, truth be told, makes sense since there weren’t that many bands around, not before the 90s at least. On the other hand, the 90s were a very rich period and should definitely be further explored.
There’s “One step from madness,” which is probably the best one, and there’s also “Bastards” and “Just one voice.” All of them are about punk, but the last two, and especially “Bastards,” suffer from what has become a regular problem with punk stuff here, and that is trying to be academic, when what it should have been done was to just document the period and rock out. Why the hell should we look for sociological validation for something that was born out of the need to question, if not destroy, status quo? There’s also a couple more, like “Some sort of punk” and a whole episode series about rock in Portugal, which I do recommend and it does have one episode about Punk. There’s the one about the long lost local club “Rock Rendez-Vous” and there are also movies about specific bands like Parkinsons and Tédio Boys (both worth watching). There’s also a documentary about Portuguese Heavy Metal in the works, and I’m sure it will be great and not academic at all. Also in Portuguese, but from Brazil, “Botinada” about 80s punk rock bands is one of the best documentaries about the genre; another one, about Ratos de Porão, is also not to be missed.
The thing is, there is great stuff out there, but maybe not every band with two 7’’ needs a movie about them and not everything has to be documented, because if, on one hand, I might feel sad about not having memorabilia or visual information about something in particular, on the other hand, I’m glad I’m able to recreate things from memory. That and the replacement of a lot of passion with an archivist spirit.