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Movie review: Punk scene gets its due in fast, furious doc

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/11/2011 (2102 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Arguably, punk rock wouldn't be as powerful if the personalities behind the music weren't equally as compelling.

Take the Vancouver punk scene, for instance, where punk pioneers like Joe Keithley, Gerry Hannah, Randy Rampage, Zippy Pinhead, Brad Kent, Jimmy Cummins and Tony Bardach are as colourful as the music they made in D.O.A., the Subhumans, the Pointed Sticks and I, Braineater.

Randy Rampage, left, and Joe Keithley of Vancouver punk band D.O.A. perform in Chicago.

BEV DAVIES

Randy Rampage, left, and Joe Keithley of Vancouver punk band D.O.A. perform in Chicago.

Director Susanne Tabata.

Director Susanne Tabata.

They all get a chance to show off their compelling personas while reminiscing about the fertile underground Vancouver scene between 1977 and 1981 in the new Susanne Tabata documentary, Bloodied But Unbowed.

The 75-minute film -- which gets its local première Friday and Saturday at Cinematheque, with Tabata appearing in person Saturday -- features a who's who of the West Coast punk scene. These musicians rewrote the rule book by blazing their own trail in a variety of distinctly non-commercial styles, from the political middle-finger-raised punk of D.O.A. and the Subhumans to the clever power-pop of the Pointed Sticks and Young Canadians to the avant-garde art-rock of U-J3RK5.

It wasn't all beer and roses, though, and Tabata's interview subjects detail the highs and lows of the era, when you would get beat up for being a punk. Women had it even worse, having to deal with the same violence, along with being sexually harassed.

The only group the punks really bonded with was the homosexual community, who were facing their own discrimination issues and were beaten up as often as the punks, skateboarder Simon Snotface notes.

"They were our only allies (in) the original punk rock scene... We took the heat off of those guys," he says, adding they also had good drugs and booze, were clean and had jobs.

The documentary moves along as fast as some of the music, with a mixture of excellent public-access TV video, photos, live footage and interviews from then and now with members of bands, fans and managers to get a complete overview of the times.

Some of the footage and photos are familiar, but there are plenty of never-before-seen pictures and private archival material, including snaps of the members of D.O.A. and the Subhumans in elementary school and of them as teenagers, sporting long hair and living like hippies in the country.

There are also interviews with American artists including Jello Biafra, Duff McKagan, Henry Rollins and Keith Morris, who had plenty of experience dealing with the rowdy Canadians, most who had colourful nicknames like Rampage, Dimwit, Biscuits, Useless and S head, and created a ruckus wherever they were.

"Put all those guys together in a room and you would have the Canadian version of the Marx Brothers," notes Circle Jerks frontman Morris.

The film is divided into different chapters, examining the origins of the scene, politics, touring, venues such as the Smilin' Buddha, life in the punk house The Plaza, the art scene. It also tackles more serious issues, such as bassist Hannah's conviction for his role in blowing up hydro substations on Vancouver Island, the effect of heroin on the musical community, and Art Bergmann's take on his career and his lack of excitement about making new music.

"I wrote a hell of a lot of songs, I got to make some great records and then I lost interest," he says.

Some haven't, though -- most notably Keithley, who is still touring with D.O.A. and is a wealth of knowledge. He and former bandmate Rampage provide some of the most pointed insights into the scene, while former bandmates Zippy Pinhead and Kent provide the biggest laughs.

"In here we're still the same guys. We're still those same little kids who spit on your mom's car," Pinhead says during the credits.

Tabata does an admirable job of detailing a moment in time of a vibrant West Coast scene and documenting the lives of those who lived through the era and survived with their sense of humour fully intact.

It makes you think Winnipeg's punk rock history could use a similar revisit.

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

 

Other voices

Excerpts from reviews of Bloodied but Unbowed.

 

The sheer scope of Bloodied but Unbowed sets it apart from lesser music documentaries. It moves at a swift clip set to a sick soundtrack and doesn't focus too much on any one band or person. For every minute of footage, we hear from at least five people -- sometimes more.

-- Dave Robson, Sound on Sight

 

With a snappy pace befitting the speedy anthems of its subjects, Tabata's doc captures the ecstatic highs and tragic lows of the days when punk was truly dangerous, with Vancouver veterans and the usual punk grandpas (Rollins, Biafra et al.) weighing in.

-- Malcolm Fraser, Montreal Mirror

 

Vancouver is a punk-rock town, a fact well explored in Susanne Tabata's documentary Bloodied but Unbowed. Between 1978 and 1982, the city produced punk acts like Subhumans, The Modernettes, and D.O.A.

-- Benjamin Freed, Washington City Paper

 

-- Compiled by Shane Minkin

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