As pervasive as punk has become in pop culture, you still don’t see too many legit films hitting the screens in a viable way. For every Filth and the Fury or Spokanarchy!, we get a gaggle of either VHS-quality releases focused on puke and personality clashes, or corporatized caricatures of what the media thinks punk should be. Not so, this time out. Strap in for a rollicking ride with a few recent punk-infused goodies you can now get on DVD or Blu-Ray. Then stay tuned for some other recent things.
On October 12, 1978, the body of 20-year-old female junkie was discovered at New York’s Chelsea Hotel. Her boyfriend Sid Vicious alerted the staff that something was wrong and he was soon arrested and charged for murder. About three months later he was found dead by his mother, having overdosed from heroin. After Sid’s passing, the case was closed and all that remained were rumors, speculation and loads of conspiracy theories. Was Sid capable or even physically able to commit such an act? Whatever happened to all the cash the couple had in the apartment? The whole sordid tale gets a solid overview in the new film Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy.
This insightful film from punk historian Danny Garcia—the man responsible for The Rise and Fall of The Clash and Looking for Johnny—is one of the best regarding Pistols-related lore. The film follows the final days of Sex Pistol Sid and girlfriend Nancy Spungen and their ill fated stay to NYC. Through a series of interviews and vignettes we get a bit more insight into what may have taken place at room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel on that inexplicable day.
Garcia takes us through the events via interviews with scene insiders like New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain, Heartbreaker Walter Lure, photographer Bob Gruen and a host of others, some of who were actual residents of the hotel. The subjects reflect on the couple, their caustic relationship, the period and newly available grand jury documents.
Music also plays a key role in this flick. The soundtrack features punk legends The Boys, The Heartbreakers, and The Members, plus Hanoi Rocks alumnist Sam Yaffa, The Prima Donnas and Sid himself. The DVD (MVD) features a high-quality transfer, along with trailers, extra interviews and a poster for the first pressing.
The Fat Wreck Chords label has become synonymous with certain strains of idiosyncratic pop punk and proggy hardcore, and recent film A Fat Wreck: The Punk-U-Mentary does a fine job at telling the story. Featuring founders Fat Mike and Erin Kelly-Burkett, plus musicians and bands signed to the label, this doc takes us through Fat Mike’s humble beginnings as a resourceful punk fan, up through his early jobs and first stab at releasing records in the early ’90s.
Through interviews, live clips and puppets, we get the low-down on the label and the key elements behind the Fat Wreck Chords sound—if there is just one—with bands like Lagwagon, NOFX, Western Addiction and a slew of others recounting how they got connected with Fat Mike and his ragged, but completely dedicated organization.
One of the best aspects of A Fat Wreck is its keen ability to showcase the human element of the label, courtesy of filmmaker Shaun Colón. There’s a strong sense of community between artists, bands, label and label boss, which makes the story all the more endearing. But aside from the human-interest story, there’s a lot of music to be had, with Fat’s most prominent bands sharing the spotlight and moving the story along. For fans of the Fat Wreck label, Fat Mike’s political activism with Punkvoter, or just those who get a kick out of seeing the underdog succeed, this one’s for you. (The Orchard/Something Kreative).
London Town is a historical drama of sorts with nods to the first-wave of UK punk. While its premise is an interesting one, in the end its ambitions seem to outweigh the results. Fifteen year-old Shay leads a dreary life. His mom has flown the coop to further her music career, while dad struggles to keep their fledgling music shop afloat.
Everything changes for the hapless lad when his mom sends him some music by The Clash. At the same time, her meets a perfectly polished punk girl (decked out in gear straight out of Hot Topic), and he has a chance encounter with none other than The Clash’s Joe Strummer (dutifully played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who becomes Shay’s mentor.
It’s kind of a cool idea. I mean, what confused teen wouldn’t want to have a trusted advisor from one of their all-time favorite bands? But in London Town, it feels a bit staged and TV-ish. Both Shay’s and punk girl Vivian’s attire look like they were picked straight from the mall and on the surface lack the authenticity of the early scene makers.
On the bright side, Rhys-Meyers does do a decent Strummer, down to the moves and providing his own vocals. And the concert scenes do have a certain magnetism and energy, which saves the film. But London Town feels more like a coming-of-age teen melodrama with a little bit of fan-fiction thrown in to spice things up. While entertaining on the surface, it lacks the grit and flamboyance that makes the early UK punk scene such fascinating subject matter. The soundtrack, however, is top-notch and features The Clash, along with Ramones, Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, The Stranglers, and others. (MPI)
One of the freshest films to hit my deck in quite some time, Little Sister tells the story of Colleen Lunsford, a young woman closing in on her final vows to become a nun. When news that her injured brother has returned home from the war, she sets out to visit her somewhat estranged family. And that’s where the fun begins.
Colleen’s mother (Ally Sheedy) is a manic-depressive, her dad an ineffectual pothead, and her brother, a returning war hero whose face is horribly disfigured. But there’s also more to Colleen than meets the eye. Beneath the crucifix and sweaters, lies the heart of a goth girl, of which Colleen soon becomes again. Cranking the music of GWAR up to 11 and her newly donned pink hair up to manic-panic levels, she attempts to bring her bro out of his slump, which infuses the film with an authentic, endearing quality.
While the punk angle takes a bit of a back seat to the family dynamics, it certainly plays a role in illustrating the complex nature of identity. Star Addison Timlin is a true gem as the goth punk who found religion, while former ’80s brat Sheedy kills it as her hapless, but concerned mom—who seems more put off by her daughter’s religious aspirations than her punk past. (Kino)
More Recent Releases
While the 1970s was a major time for horror and Sci-Fi (The Exorcist, Jaws, Star Wars et al.), there were loads and loads of seedier titles that were the direct result of slashed budgets, global political upheaval, and backlash to the peace and love of the ’60s. Termed by critics and historians as “exploitation films,” these midnight flicks often riffed off of certain trends, cultural happenings and explicit imagery to get their point across.
Psychomania (1973) was one such film. This once-obscure little UK gem attempted to cash in on the biker trend of the ’60s and ’70s, but in the end, delivers so much more. “The Living Dead” are an immortal motorcycle gang led by a snarky, well-to-do young gentleman (Nicky Henson), whose mother happens to be an occult leader that worships frogs(!). Yep, the name alone of this little dittie doesn’t even begin to describe some of its more inexplicable bright spots. Stuff like the gang terrorizing a supermarket with some petty gags, the clutch of creative suicides and the inclusion of veteran actor George Sanders—who committed suicide after the film’s release—are just a few.
For years, Psychomania has mostly only been available in shoddy, second-rate DVD transfers until now. This latest release features all of the madness in a pristine Blu-ray/DVD combo that includes loads of extras and an essay on this much-beloved cult film. The film’s tripped-out, proggy score is also worth noting, and comes across loud and clear in this new package. (Arrow)
Wait Until Dark
This 1967 thriller has finally made its way into hi-def via the sage folks at Warner Archive. A newly blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) gets conned and terrorized by a psychotic killer, out for drugs he thinks she has. Predictably, things get pretty bleak, and the idea that she can outsmart and overpower her adversaries seems nil.
Directed by Terrence Young, this claustrophobic film thrives on both subtle and blatant skull-fuckery, and building tension, and is a must for fans of ’60s genre films. (Warner Archive Collection)
Italian filmmaker Franco Prosperi was infamous in exploitation circles for his so-called “shockumentaries” like Mondo Cane and Goodbye Uncle Tom. These two films supposedly documented historical events and primitive cultures, but in the end weren’t much more than highly staged and shocking for shock’s sake.
Wild Beasts (1984) is a different animal altogether. This one casts aside the doc format for a more traditional narrative—that is if you consider animals dosed with PCP and lashing out against humans normal film fare. This obscure cult film is strange, funny, and mildly offensive all at once, and this sharp new Blu-ray transfer makes it an essential piece of trash cinema for diehards to chew on. (Severin)
This little Cinemax show seemingly has it all—mystery, crime, action, pathos, sex, discrimination, civil rights and so much more. The story of Vietnam vet Mac Conway returning to his wife and all of the baggage that awaits him in Memphis is a compelling one. Add in the big caper, infidelity, racial prejudice and lots of trashy cultural references and you’ve got something special. With a stellar cast, some unexpected twists and a painstaking recreation of the seamy ’70s, Quarry is a keeper. (HBO)
Death Race 2050
As a sequel to Death Race 2000 (1975), this one pales a bit. But as standalone political satire, it’s not half bad. Both films were produced by the Maestro Roger Corman, and this latest installment about a dystopian civilization controlled by corporations cranks up the sarcasm in spades, with a villain straight out of the Donald Trump playbook.
The object of the race is to kill and earn points, and there’s a virtual reality aspect that didn’t exist in the original. But where the first film thrived on its flamboyant characters and eerie sets, this one goes straight for the gags and cheap thrills, which knocks it down a tad, but there’s still some maddening scenes to be had. (Universal)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz