165 Destroy All Movies
OK, so I know that Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film isn’t a comic. But it’s published by Fantagraphics books, and since they mostly publish comics (and mostly publish the best ones, it seems) I’m running with it.
First off, I would like to give thanks to the two writers of the book, Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly, for taking the time to research and write it, because I’m sure like many others it’s a topic that has come up for me in conversation. And after spending the last two days plowing through this majestic slab of crucial, comically informative reviews, part of me envies them in having done it first, while some other part wants to thank them for taking a bullet the rest of us don’t have to.
What we have here is an alphabetical list of movies containing punks from the years 1974-1999. It covers the obvious big ones (Suburbia, D.O.A., The Return Of The Living Dead, Class of 1984) to the less obvious and completely obscure.
It’s also crammed with some amazing interviews with people connected to certain movies. If your already familiar with some of the more well-known films this is a great supplement, because it gives you more information than just the write-up. My three favorite interviews were with Jon Gries, for Joysticks because it explains what he was thinking by going balls out bat-shit like he did for the character “King Vidiot”; the interview with Sickie Wifebeater of The Mentors for a movie Madame Wang’s of which I have never seen, for the sheer politically incorrectness of the whole thing (he goes on a tirade about starting a vendetta against the movie’s “fag” director, but rescinds by saying, “you know what, it doesn’t matter. I like fags.” I don’t condone the use of slurs, but sometimes horrible people are interesting for just how horrible they actually are;) and, on a personal note, I was stoked to see Lisa Langlois “Patsy” from the movie Class of 1984 interviewed. Not only because I have never seen or read an interview with her in my entire life, but growing up as a teen I was beyond horribly sexually attracted to her character from said movie. Class of 1984 is one of the few movies where the punks are allowed to grow exponentially in character and, by default, evil deeds. Which not only makes it unique for punk feature films, but… well, any film. What other film allows its villains that much air time? Anyway, her character “Patsy” sent me spinning. I always wanted to date the villain girls in movies, and she was the one that started my fascination with “Bad Girls”. Consequently, I date a lot of assholes. Thanks a bunch, Lisa.
Besides just film reviews, if read in it’s entirety the book also becomes a sort of thesis about what punk is, was and how it was seen by outsiders who exploited its image for easy marks as villains or comic foils (or both). I think inroads to punk music and lifestyle vary– a lot of people would never know what it was other than the colorful way of dressing with the snide, fuck authority attitudes portrayed in the movies. And as far as villains go, I loved that about a lot of 80’s movies. I was never once offended by the use of punks as villains, because I read comics, and those punks in 80′s outfits sometimes reminded me of super-villains. And super-heroes, for the most part, are lame. Something I was (and am) into was being portrayed on-screen as universally scary and– other than the acting– was kind of real. That was awesome! How much more rock’n’roll could you get?
Admittedly, my view is not shared by all. A lot of people who associate themselves with punk through their lives often look at those portrayals as a means to marginalize a group of people who already were a little outside of society already. And this may have to do with age. Nowadays, the idea of punk is spread just a little too thin. Rich kids from suburbia with a little hair dye and some baggy pants think of themselves as the same crew of maniacs that were prowling around California and New York in the late 70’s early 80’s– when you could get the living shit kicked out of you for looking even a little different, let alone like the apocalyptic mutants they did.
Because of this, the way you look at the movies can be as varied as we look at punk culture in general. I related to this book because, like many others, my introduction to punk was through films. Or, one film in particular: The Return Of The Living Dead.
When I was younger The Return Of The Living Dead was playing seemingly all the time on HBO. It scared the living shit out of me, but it was my favorite movie. I must have seen that movie at least 30 times on television (and have seen it now at least 8 times in a theatre) and it left a scar on my brain. One Christmas I was given my first Walkman (I assume because my parents knew if I was given a stereo they would have to suffer through whatever shit I would eventually end up listening to) and my Dad brought me to the record store to get my first tape. I was kind of square so I didn’t know that much about music, but when I found the soundtrack to The Return Of The Living Dead my eyes lit up. And it was all down hill from there: that tape introduced me to my all time favorite band ever, The Cramps, and accidentally changed my entire life. After listening to that tape months on end, how was I supposed to relate to things like New Kids On The Block? Or… well, most popular music? And I could not be luckier. I cannot imagine myself now if my favorite bands growing up was just the disposable music of the day. I would probably be watching Jersey Shore as a “window into my way of life” or some such shit.
But because of my age, when I was getting into punk a lot of the cool bands were already done. I missed Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, The Minutemen and The Plasmatics by mere years. And sure, I got some important bands like Fugazi in return, but the time of Mohawks and all the crazy get ups seemed just outdated enough to know not to emulate them. It seemed to me that at one point it was probably an act of pride in creating a visual way to identify your community. But to me, if I or people around me in upstate NY dressed like that at the time I was into it, it would have seemed insincere at best. Even now, if I see a young kid dressed up like an 80’s movie punk , I kind of roll my eyes. It’s no different than a young kid, or college kid dressing up like a 70’s hippie. Yeah the ideals of both movements still live on, but the fashion is now just a costume. I can only assume they’re going through a phase.
Which, I realize, is because maybe I’m a little more jaded at this point in my life than I would like to admit. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with dressing the role, to me “punk” never meant the way I looked as much as how I conducted myself; by what I bought into and what I didn’t in society. It meant to be inquisitive, while also kind of being a dick if you needed to be. You know, stand up to the bullies kind of thing. Got something that needs to get done? Just fucking do it. Real simple kind of stuff.
Stuff that I can’t honestly say I would have gotten into were it not for punk, because that lead to skateboarding, which led to reading zines, which lead to me reading books I may not have sought out before, and listening to bands I may have overlooked, and going to shows, and meeting people who took active roles in trying to change things (sometimes that last part unfortunately also meant meeting a lot of self-indulgent idiots.) Again, if I was into, let’s say, Boyz II Men, would I still be the same person? I’m not saying I wouldn’t be, but I think it’s safe to assume I wouldn’t.
And even though I believe in all of the above, I think the reason why I have such a fascination with these movies that depict punks, for good or bad, is because I just missed the boat on being smack dab in that scene instead of the one I was (and am) in. It’s fascinating to think what would I have been like were I born a decade or so earlier: would I still view what punk is the same way? What would I have thought of the kids who came after me? These things run through my mind. And even though I know so many of the movies are ridiculous, I love them as the time capsule that they are, for capturing both the real and fake views of those before me.
And this is where Destroy All Movies! becomes indispensable, really. It’s put forth so much effort on behalf of these films. If you have any interest whatsoever in the topic you really cannot do without a copy of this book. If you’re like me, it will make you want to revisit some movies again, and search out some you’ve overlooked (my wallet weeps because of the twenty or so movies I am now determined to have in my collection). In no uncertain terms, this book comes with my highest recommendations.
- Although not a punk movie, I recently watched the new Jean-Pierre Juenet film MicMacs and found it quite enjoyable. Still has the visual flair of Amélie and The City Of Lost Children, but more of a comedy. You should check it out.
- Soundtrack to this writing:
- CIRCLE JERKS – GROUP SEX
- SHARK ATTACK- DISOGRAPHY
- SUICIDAL TENDENCIES- JOIN THE ARMY