Punk’s always best when things go bad. The UK during the 1970s had Margaret Thatcher and mass unemployment. Over here, we had Watergate, the oil crisis, Iran and eventually, Ronald Reagan. Nowadays, the only thing Chinese punks need to do for inspiration is to look right outside their windows. With Big Brother looming at every turn and little exposure to the outside world, the climate is ripe for a blossoming punk scene. The documentary Beijing Punk (MVD) brings it all to light in riveting style.
During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the government of China loosened its grip slightly, allowing foreign journalists a little more leeway with cameras and recorders. Filmmaker Shaun Jefford decided to make the most of it and see if there was such thing as punk rock in Red China. He proceeded to search out every teenage hangout he could locate, asking anyone that looked slightly alternative if they first, knew what punk rock was, and if so, where to find it. The search paid off, and Jefford struck gold at the D-22 club, the CBGBs of the Far East.
The doc focuses mainly on three bands: skinheads MiSanDao, the indie-ish Hedgehog, and the best of the batch, Demerit, who play more traditional, classic punk. While none of these bands sound particularly novel or original on the surface, when you take into account that they all live in a repressive police state with—until fairly recently—little exposure to the outside world, it’s a pretty big deal. And, the similarities between these bands and those of the West, is uncanny.
The quirky Hedgehog—with manic female drummer in tow—are obviously major Nirvana fans. MiSanDao apes the UK skinhead style, down to the boots, suspenders and primitive machismo. The mystery here lies in what exactly they are rebelling against. Is there white supremacy in China? If they’re simply proud nationalists, do they agree with the repressive regime that frowns upon what they do? It’s all part of what makes this underground scene so fascinating. Demerit plays classic street punk, à la Rancid and The Casualties. While far from unique, the band’s songs and style are the most polished of the bunch.
Jefford does a fine job in documenting this brave, budding scene, from the point of view of the bands, the fans and the club owners. There are also a few bits with visiting Westerners, who are equally blown away by the rebellious spirit that fuels this underground dichotomy. Truly a DIY affair, Beijing Punk is a fascinating view, for fans of punk rock and beyond.
Check out more DVD and Blu-ray releases…
West of Memphis
This documentary follows the almost 20-year struggle to free the West Memphis Three, who as teenagers, were falsely accused of murdering three small boys, simply because they “fit the profile.” Said profile held that the three, led by the enigmatic Damien Echols, murdered the boys as part of a satanic ritual, based largely on the fact that Echols had long black hair and enjoyed non-mainstream music. The corruption that led to this travesty can be traced all the way from the police to sworn witnesses and the jury.
West of Memphis gives a long, detailed view through interviews and archival footage, and it’s an emotional ride, especially since even in the end, justice has still not been served. Bastards. (Sony)
Blowing Fuses Left and Right
Shot in the late ’80s, this DVD captures frank interviews from three of Detroit’s favorite sons: Ron Asheton (Stooges), Rob Tyner (MC5) and Dennis Thompson (MC5). Truly a DIY affair, we get honest, insightful interviews about the origins of the bands, their influences and what the hell happened to them a decade or so earlier. Especially interesting is Ron Asheton’s slightly resentful account on how The Stooges eventually became “Iggy and the Stooges” with Pop being elevated to star billing. (MVD)
Kiss of the Damned
This one’s a hot item at the moment. And it’s easy to see why. With the current interest in ’70s pop occultism in both music and film, Kiss of the Damned is a perfect fit, as it emulates the gothic horror films cranked out by the likes of Hammer, Amicus, Tigon and other studios of the day. The film recreates the period faithfully, down to the moody feel, campy fashions and slushy music. Trouble is, it’s a bit hard to tell if it’s a homage, or a piss-take. The wooden actors almost seem as if they’re about to break into laughter at any given moment as they recite the stiff dialog. That said, the story of high-society vampires is an interesting angle, and it’s a real charmer to look at. (Magnolia)
The BBC has done it again with this body horror/genetic sci-fi series. Sarah discovers that there is more than one of her out there, leading to a quest to track down the origins of her strange affliction. The extremely versatile and dishy Tatiana Maslany—who induces thrills, chills and butterflies at once—plays Sarah and all her very different clones to the hilt. Next time you think there’s nothing on TV, think again. (BBC)
Errors of the Human Body
When a man tries to unlock the mystery of his dead infant son’s genetic defects, things get freakishly bad. Set in Germany, what makes Errors of the Human Body all the more eerie is its lead actor Michael Eklund, who turns in a heavy performance of a father on the verge of emotional and physical disaster. The fact that the film’s got deadly viruses, deformed lab mice and a creepy German skinhead also aids in the effect. (IFC)
Star Trek: Next Generation
Whether you’re a Trekkie, a general fan boy or a passive viewer, the debate forever rages on: Jean Luc Picard or James T. Kirk? Personally, I always appreciated the campiness William Shatner brought to Captain Kirk, but I can relate to the more serious tones of Patrick Stewart as the Captain in this next phase of the original series. For fans of that era, Season 4 does not disappoint, especially in hi-def, as its special effects still look fairly timely. (Paramount)
For a more in-depth look at the Star Trek franchise, check out The Captains Close Up, a five-volume series that explores each captain’s tenure in the series, as seen through the eyes of Shatner himself. (E1)
If you’re looking for thought-provoking and insightful content with a feminist slant, Femme Fatales is not it. Conversely, if you appreciate females who are more than adept at slaying their corrupt male counterparts—in all manner of undress—then Season 2 of this racy cult series may just be for you. (E1)
The Pinky Violence Collection
Even though this one’s been out a few years, chances are, you haven’t heard of it unless you’re a diehard fan of Japanese exploitation cinema. If not, part of the purpose of this column is to bring you things you won’t see anywhere else, and The Pinky Violence Collection qualifies in spades.
The set contains four Japanese B-movies from the ’60s, each featuring tough teenage girls violently kicking ass all over the place. With titles such as Criminal Woman: Killing Melody, Terrifying Girls’ High School: Lynch Law Classroom, Girl Boss Guerilla and Delinquent Girl Boss: Worthless To Confess, you know you’re in for some heavy shite.
My favorite of the batch is latter, featuring gangster girls, go-go dancers, knife fights and loads of groovy, swingin’ fashion—obviously a major influence on the future work of Quentin Tarantino. And surprisingly, it’s still available, with packaging that must be seen to be believed—the 5-disc set comes packed in a screen-printed pink binder with a book and bonus CD of soundtrack music. (Panik House)
Daimajin – Triple Feature
The Daimajin series was produced in Japan in 1966 and released just months apart. Daimajin is an ancient giant statue that comes to life when innocent people get messed with. It’s an intriguing monster concept that actually looks pretty wicked this many decades later. The problem is that the filmmakers—while obviously conscious of the need for a solid storyline—take forever to get to the action, which is what we really want to see. Once we do get to Daimajin’s ass-kicking antics, it all looks surprisingly strong in HD. The set includes all three films in the series—Daimajin, Return of Daimajin, and Daimajin Strikes Again. (Mill Creek)
Spearhead From Space
There are loads of Doctor Who DVDs out there, ranging from today’s revamped series all the way back to the early days some 50 years ago. What makes Spearhead From Space a bit different is that it’s the first of the oldies to see a hi-def release. This one dates back to 1970, where the dandy-ish Jon Pertwee—who is easily distinguishable by his stylish bouffant and hip threads—is introduced as the new, third Doctor. In this new era of the Doctor Who saga, our hero gets exiled to Earth where he must fight a race of plastic people. As the first story of the entire series to be shot in color, it’s only fitting that this campy, fun flick makes its Blu-ray debut. (BBC)
A Boy And His Dog
Before he donned a fake tan and casual suit for Miami Vice, Don Johnson starred in this little cult gem released in 1975. Based on a short story by author Harlan Ellison, the film follows a teenager named Vic (Johnson) who roams the wastelands of post-apocalyptic USA with a telepathic dog named Blood. Vic is out for female companionship, while Blood’s all about finding his next meal. But in a strange way, it works as a twisted buddy flick. At the time of its release, the film bombed, but has remained a cult favorite nonetheless. Now, it’s hit the big time with this Blu-ray release, and looks phenomenal. (Shout! Factory)
Director Michael Kosakowski started interviewing people about their murder fantasies back in 1996, with the intention of making short films out of them, starring the interviewees themselves. Later on, he spoke with them to get their take on the project, a decade after the fact.
Zero Killed features those short films and interviews. The murder films range from a dog mauling, to suicide bombing, stabbings, torture, suffocation and other niceties. While the subject matter is obviously meant to be a commentary on a society obsessed with violence, many of the films come off as clumsy and comical, which I don’t think was the initial intention—think Chucky meets America’s Funniest Home Videos, and you get the picture. (Cult Epics)
One of the preeminent ’80s exploitation films finally gets its Blu-ray debut—allowing for more gore in pristine hi-def. A batch of vintage wine gone bad gets released to the homeless population of a junkyard in Lower Manhattan. The junkyard bunch is scary enough on its own, with some of its kooky crew donning campy costumes similar to those seen in MTV videos of the day. But it’s the booze that takes center stage, as it melts away—in gruesome fashion—anyone who takes a fateful swig. There’s also a classic scene where one of said costumed hobos loses a vital body part, only to have it tossed around like a beanbag. I guarantee, you’ve never seen anything like Street Trash, and nothing I say here will even come close to accurately describing it. (Synapse)
Mr. Sardonicus/ Brotherhood of Satan
This svelte little Blu-ray 2-fer features a pair of lesser-known films from the ’60s and ’70s that you’d be fairly hard-pressed to find even on DVD. Hit maker William Castle, who was famous for putting a gimmicky spin on his flicks, directed Mr. Sardonicus. Here, Castle attempts—with mixed results—to crank out a gothic horror film with the story of a cursed man whose face is permanently formed into a demonic smile. Brotherhood of Satan plays off of the occult craze of the early ’70s and centers on a town where children are disappearing at the same time an underground satanic cult gathers steam.
Neither film does its respective genre due justice, but both are kind of fun in a campy, macabre sort of way, and look ultra-crisp in these new HD transfers. (Mill Creek)
This cult favorite from 1980 stars Meat Loaf as a hapless lout who becomes a renowned roadie with the hopes of scoring the groupie girl of his dreams. While a tad light on story, this road film does feature killer live performances from Alice Cooper and Blondie, which give this Blu-ray most all of its seamy appeal. (Shout! Factory)
Help! was the second of the five Beatles films. Painting the band in a more comedic light, the film comes complete with a mad scientist, a religious cult, a shrinking Beatle and plenty of other madcap antics (Austin Powers anyone?). If the Beatles were not in this film, it would be just one of many James Bond send-ups of the mid ’60s. But, since the band takes center stage, it’s a must-see, if for the fact alone that they actually seem to really like each other (this was obviously before Yoko Ono entered the scene). This new Blu-ray edition features loads of extras and insightful featurettes. (Capitol)
In the eyes of many critics and music fans, rock cinema hit an all-time low during the ’80s with the likes of Hard Rock Zombies, Trick or Treat and this, Black Roses. True, the latter does have a pretty predictable premise (band’s music turns fans into evil Satan worshippers), cheap special effects (rubberized demons) and corny rock clichés (the band strikes every pop metal pose of the day). And, it was obviously made with some level of cashing-in in mind. But, it is strangely entertaining, with just enough weirdness—especially in its opening concert imagery—to give it the underground appeal it’s garnered over the years. This DVD has been out for a while, but is still readily available. (Synapse)
Aerosmith: Rock For The Rising Sun
I know what you’re thinking. Aerosmith has been so damn overexposed these past few years, why include this new title? First off, I agree—especially with Steven Tyler’s stint on reality TV, I’d pretty much written them off, too. But when in doubt, I always look to the band’s first few albums from the ’70s and quickly change my mind.
This concert from 2011 actually features loads of material from said albums, and the band sounds invigorated and alive, even in its golden years. Hell, they even still look pretty rock ‘n’ roll. My only qualm is the interviews and offstage footage between songs…why? Otherwise, it’s a killer set, culled from a timeless collection of material. (Eagle)
Rodrigo Borgia was the original gangster. And Jeremy Irons does him up right as the corrupt Spaniard Pope. Season 3 sees a rift in the family between father and son that could jeopardize the burgeoning Borgia Empire as well as the family ties. With its epic sets, lush cinematography and exceeding eye candy, this period piece is always good for an epic ride, and this latest installment is no exception. (Showtime)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. See you next month, JK.