Weekend DVD – Punk: Attitude

Punk AttitudePunk: Attitude is one of the best music documentaries of recent years. The film chronicles the timeline of punk rock; from it’s roots in 60’s garage rock and bands like the Stooges and MC5 to today’s bands like Green Day. The great strength of the film is the wealth of interviews from all the major players from bands like the Ramones, New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, the Clash, Siouxse and the Banshees, Suicide and Black Flag. Director Don Letts had the enviable position of being there at the time punk happened in London. He was the house DJ at the Roxy in London, one of the few venues to put on punk gigs, playing reggae and dub which had a profound influence on bands like the Clash and the Slits. From it’s early days in London, the film shifts to the United States, where it takes two directions. “Hardcore” was the style that arose from the punk ethos of “short, fast and loud” and takes in bands like Black Flag, the Germs, Agnostic Front and Minor Threat. The more art based “post-punk” took the free spirit of punk and moulded it into something totally new. Bands usually branded post punk were groups like Devo, Sonic Youth, James Chance and Theoretical Girls.

There’s no actual narrative or voice over, so it’s left to the interviewees to tell their stories. All have different ideas and opinions on what is and what isn’t punk and that gives the film it’s biggest strength or flaw, depending on how you look at it. Everyone tends to disagree about everything, whether it’s the roots of punk in the “hippy” 60’s rock, or it’s modern incarnation in bands like Blink 182 or Green Day. Ultimately, punk itself is viewed as more of an attitude and a spirit of non-conformity, rather than just having a mohican haircut. The other big strength of the film is the brilliant footage of some of the classic punk bands performing live. To see groups like Dead Kennedys, MC5, Bad Brains and more is a real joy.

The interviews are good and offer plenty of insight, and most of them are extended in the Extras section, meaning there’s basically a bunch of deleted scenes. Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band) is excitable, but on the point. Jello Biafra comes across as a bit pompous, but again nails it when he talks about the modern day spirit of punk. There’s also a few heavyweights that aren’t featured here; John Lydon and Malcolm McLaren could’ve shed more light on the punk scene in London and it would’ve been interesting to hear from Iggy Pop, the so-called “godfather of punk”. That being said, Punk: Attitude is one of the most enlightening music documentaries I’ve seen.

Director Don Letts talks about Punk: Attitude:

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