Last night I went out and saw the movie American Hardcore. It’s a documentary about — what else? — the American Hardcore punk movement of the early to mid 1980′s. I first heard about this film a couple months ago when I was already pretty deeply into making my film Cleveland’s Screaming. I was kinda worried the movies would be very similar. And, of course, in some ways they are. But, while American Hardcore is about the big movement and its major players, my film is a lot narrower in scope, focused as it is on just a single small geographic region.
American Hardcore is a terrific film. This is the first documentary movie that has really dealt with what has to be one of the most significant cultural movements of the late 20th century in a comprehensive way. Don Letts’ Punk: Attitude really doesn’t go much into Hardcore. Docs about specific bands like We Jam Econo about The Minutemen don’t really cover the movement itself — though We Jam Econo is also a terrific move as is Punk: Attitude. There are a whole lot of, frankly pretty lazy semi-documentaries out there which, for the most part, just string together a lot of live clips without any real context. American Hardcore really puts it all together in an entertaining and educational way that should open some eyes to what went on in them days.
The bummer to me was that the filmakers completely ignored the Ohio scene. But, then again, they ignored the Kansas scene and the New Mexico scene and the Alaska scene and on & on… They’re California kids. What can you expect but a California-centric film? The general consensus seems to be that California was the heart of the Hardcore movement. I have my doubts about that. I think the main reason for that impression is that kids in California had better access to the means by which to get their stuff heard. Even if they weren’t directly connected with the entertainment industry, kids out here are so steeped in how that industry works that even when they go DIY they’re a hell of a lot more savvy and efficient than we could’ve been back in Ohio where the people around us were all tire factory employees and steel workers. While it’s certainly a fact that the Los Angeles and Orange County scenes were tremendously important, I think that importance has been somewhat exagerated by the fact that most of the folks who wrote the history of the movement come from out here.
Which is not meant as a put down of the film. I still highly recommend it. It’s amazing to me no one has done a movie like this before. I mean it’s like everyone thinks Nirvana just sprang up from the ground fully formed in 1991 or that Green Day invented punk rock. You kids today! You don’t know how your elders suffered for your sake! Hack! Hack! Where’s my Metamucil? What did you kids do with my teeth? Rotten brats…
ANYWAY, the neatest part of the movie for me was an interview where Dave Dictor of MDC Stains (authors of “John Wayne Was a Nazi” and “Corporate Deathburger”) is talking about MDC’s transition from a more punk rock sound to Hardcore. He says something like, “What we had in common with bands like The Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Zero Defects was…”
I didn’t hear the rest cuz I was too busy scraping my jaw off the floor. Thanks Dave!! At least someone from the NE Ohio scene got a shout out.
Another kind of interesting moment for me was a brief interview with a guy who was like a roadie for Black Flag or something — wish I could remember. Anyhow, the guy is now the minister of a Universalist Unitarian church. In his interview he says something like, “Sometimes you see ministers who were formerly rock and rollers who say that that was when they were a sinner and now they’re different. But for me it wasn’t like that. Being a minister is a progression from what I did as a punk rocker.” Actually I can’t remember what he said, so I’m totally misquoting him. But it was pretty much that sentiment. Which is how I feel about my role as a Zen monk. I never felt like I abandoned punk for Zen. To me, it’s more been the next logical step down the same path.
American Hardcore is set to open in select theaters throught the US next week, I think. But most likely it won’t get a huge PR push. Even in LA I had to dig to find out about it. I missed the actual premier because I didn’t know it was going on and I check the papers pretty thoroughly for that kinda stuff since it’s part of my job. So you may have to look for this one. But I highly recommend you do because it’s really worth seeing.