Punk: Attitude review

Last night Sarai and I watched Punk: Attitude, which we found on Netflix. Despite the stupid name, I thought it might be interesting, as it promised commentary from the ever amusing and insightful (and inciteful) Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra, as well as a comprehensive look at the movement starting back in the early 1970s. How can we go wrong, I thought. At the very least it should be entertaining. Sadly, this wasn’t the case.

It started out ok. As promised, it gave an in-depth history of the origins punk scene, beginning with some early artists who, while not punk per se, helped to pave the way. The Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, in particular were held up as being “punk before punk existed”. You can’t understand something without understanding it’s origins, so this wasn’t a bad start.

We learned about CBGB in NYC and the Roxy in London, heard from people related to the punk scene in various ways, and looked at how the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash were changing the musical landscape in these two cities. We saw how new wave became the mainstream arm of the movement and how punk street fashion eclipsed what the movement was supposedly all about.

This stuff is all interesting, but we could have done with far less detail on most of these things. As it was, at this point this 90 minute film was more than half over when Sid Vicious died. In response the narrators declared punk dead in 1980 and jumped immediately to the 1990s and grunge. What??!?

Ok, there was a brief — and I mean brief, blink and you’ll miss it — mention of the US hardcore scene along with bands such as Agnostic Front, Black Flag, and the Dead Kennedys, but I don’t think LA was ever even mentioned by name. Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat, and the DC scene didn’t get a mention, nor did the UK anarcho-punk movement (Crass, et al). Both unforgivable oversights, in my opinion. And Black Flag was the only LA band to rate a mention; no Germs, no Circle Jerks. The omission of Ian MacKaye and Minor Threat is particularly odd because during the opening credits a number of band names were shown, including Fugazi, yet neither Fugazi or Minor Threat were so much as mentioned.

The filmmaker might have had more time to talk about some of these important people and bands if he had not spent so much time expanding the definition of “punk” to include nearly anything even vaguely outside the mainstream. Things called “punk” in this film include various glam, new wave, and experimental bands, hippies, grunge, ’90s rap-metal, and Michael Moore. I’m not kidding about that last one; this was the point when I gave up on this movie.

Overall this was a terrible film. Don’t waste your time.

Comments

Funny that I found this, I’ve been waiting to see this movie. We’ve obviously got at least somewhat similar backgrounds and your review has said more than enough to make me pass on this one. Thanks for taking the bullet for the rest of us!

I met Jello Biafra a few years back. He was a dick, but I’ve never held that against a punk rocker. ;-).