It’s difficult to imagine the roller coaster ride the punk scene has taken over the last 30 years. Starting as a blunt slap to social norms and political corruption, punk towered over the public like a frozen tsunami, waiting for the right moment to drop and wash away the squares. Yet, the movement never had that moment of free reign; it was dropped like a bad habit by kids who grew up in a hurry and fell into line like their parents.Director Susan Dynner is fascinated with the ebb and flow of the music scene, stitching together “Punk’s Not Dead” as a tribute to the anti-establishment movement that never died; instead, hiding every so often in the bosom of youth waiting for its next chance to explode.
"Maybe punk isn’t dead, but it sure is hurtin’ these days."
Coming on the heels of last year’s “American Hardcore,” “Dead” isn’t, at first, an informational tool with the desired amount of freshness. Vaulting the viewer back to the years of the unwashed greats like the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, the picture kicks off like any other recovered tomb of the era. It traces the history of the DIY genre, admiring the messy skill of revolution, and interviewing those still (barely) standing today.
Soon, “Dead” finds a unique point of view, looking at the initial demise of punk, its implosion in the 80s, and the softened resurgence of pride in the 90s, led by Green Day, Bad Religion, and The Offspring. Dynner’s quest is not to judge the new additions to the community, but to explore their message, commercial success, and lasting popularity.
Once a beacon for the disenfranchised, it’s a pip to watch the new melodic punk capture the imagination of corporate America, with “Dead” investigating the controversial Vans Warped Tour and the pockmark of any suburban mall, Hot Topic. Selling rebellion for a price easy on any allowance, this second wave of punk was blindsided by its popularity; confused on how to swallow sponsorship, pop culture exhaustion (punkified clips from “The OC” and “Gilmore Girls” are used to make this point), or heady record sales while still managing a crisp and decisive rebel yell.
Dynner has a host of interviews to further debate the situation, including Henry Rollins, Mike Ness, Billie Joe Armstrong, Jello Biafra, Ian MacKaye, and Glen Matlock. The old guard gives great insight to punk’s longevity as well as airing their fears and frustrations over its future. Dynna further cements the tenacity of old punkers by showcasing the bands still kicking today, paying special attention to the weary road life of The Adicts and The UK Subs, with their expanding bellies (perhaps the latest embodiment of the middle-finger kiss off?) and abyssal frown lines.
The second half of “Dead” moves onto thin ice, introducing the topic of “pop-punk” to the film and revealing a torrent of animosity from a sizable portion of punk’s elder statesmen. Merely naming bands like Sum 41, My Chemical Romance, and Good Charlotte disgusts some interviewees, but Dynner makes a strong point that mutation is inevitable, along with popularity. Truthfully, most of the arguments are on par with junior high lunchroom debates on who is more “punk,” but it’s impossible to look at some of these current acts and not giggle. I don’t know about you, but once mascara enters the equation, I think any hopes for punk legacy have long since sailed.
In the last decade the shock of commercial success has given way to manufactured rebellion, but it’s hard to ignore the adoration from the fans. Still, there are some who still equate poverty with street cred, and “Dead” pays close attention to the rise of the underground; the pierced, boozehound youth who want more from their subculture than clichés and Pro Tooled gloss.
As a closer, “Dead” asked the world to fly their punk flag high, presenting videos from bands around the globe (Iceland, New Zealand, and Indonesia for starters) who are keeping the movement alive against impossible cultural odds. Yeah, you try to be punk in Israel and see how far you get.“Punk’s Not Dead” is a documentary of immense personality and information; a wonderful tool to help sort out just what is happening with this screwy genre of music. Whether you’re a kid with a fresh coat of shellac on your Mohawk or an aging hipster still clinging to the Johnny Rotten school of snot, it’s a film that enlightens the debate and demonstrates without a doubt that when punk disappears, it never truly dies.
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originally posted: 07/03/07 10:00:00