Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, Directed by Pamela B. Green

This excellent documentary begins on shaky ground with a quick-fire montage of industry big-timers and indie heroes engaged in talking head interviews. The gist of this segment suggests a lot of industry insiders and intellectuals have not heard of pioneering filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché. The film asks: “How could such an important filmmaker not be known?” Here lies my only contention with the film: it struggles to present itself as a mystery unnecessarily.

Guy-Blaché’s memoirs were published in 1996. She is the subject of several books. She had a retrospective at The Whitney Museum of Art in 2010. Every year since 2012, an award is given in her name at the Golden Film Festival. She’s not a household name, but she hardly wallows in obscurity. I embrace the film’s contention her work was not taken as seriously as her male counterparts, but I also believe filmmaking in general was not taken seriously nor was it well-documented as it could have been during this crucial time of its infancy. And like many filmmakers working from the early nineteenth century through the 1920s, much of Guy-Blaché’s footage has literally disintegrated. Only about a third of her films survived.

But the film settles quickly and begins to write Guy-Blaché into the tapestry of film history. This aspect of the story is rich enough to carry the film. It provides an invaluable opportunity to categorize and observe her surviving work. Director Pamela B. Green makes the case for Guy-Blaché with compelling use of footage, interviews, and an excellent timeline moving the film forward at an entertaining and informative pace.

Guy-Blaché is widely believed to be the first director to make a narrative film. She also holds the distinction of being the first filmmaker to use an all African-American cast, although the result is objectionable, thematically, by today’s standards. She is also credited as first filmmaker to use close-ups, hand-tinted color, and synchronized sound (although the film never fully qualifies the contention she was the first to use close-ups). She also started Solax Films, snapping up the title of first female head of a studio. A sign on the studio wall is one of her prime directions to her actors: “Be Natural.” It was Guy-Blaché’s philosophy.

What is most astounding is all of this happened over an approximately twenty- year career. By the 1920s, film production was relocating to Hollywood, California, and Guy-Blaché encountered setbacks that pushed her studio (and much of the film business in Fort Lee, New Jersey, an early hub for film production) out of business. Guy-Blaché moved to Paris to find work, but struggled and eventually gave up or lost interest. “Why?” is a mystery Green chases to a logical conclusion. Guy-Blaché disintegrated into history like her fragile celluloid catalogue. She was a pioneer whose work would further an industry that certainly turned its back on her. This film does a first-rate job of telling her story. –Billups Allen (Zeitgeist)

Blood and Steel, Cedar Crest Country Club: Streaming, Directed by Michael Maniglia

In 1986 a group of kids built a giant halfpipe in a country club in Centreville, Va. The project was funded by one of their dads who owned the country club and even set them up with an architect to make the ramp perfect. The frosting on the cake was that the ramp had sheets of steel opposed to plywood for the top layer. It even had an apartment and a garage built under the decks. For years the Cedar Crest Country Club (aka the CCCC or The Crest) became a destination spot for skateboarders and punk bands from across the country. People moved to the area just to be closer to this Mecca of a ramp.

This documentary covers the closing of the skateparks and the destruction of wood ramps that lead to this project. How a bunch of frustrated kids who had nowhere to skate took the initiative and used their blood, sweat, tears, and happy-go-lucky dad’s money to build the ramp.

We hear testimonials by Ian MacKaye, members of Gwar, and many others on what it was like to play on a ramp in the middle of the woods to hundreds of sweaty kids. You get to see actual footage of bones being broken during some rowdy “snake sessions.” Other than those incidents, the punks, skaters, metalheads, and even country bumpkins got along just fine at the tent-filled grounds of the CCCC.

It’s a good documentary with a lot of archived videos and photos from CCCC’s five-year run. It would’ve been nice if the doc went into more detail on why the patrons just stopped showing up. But then again, if it was any longer than ninety minutes I could have seen myself getting bored. –Rick V. (Subterra Films)

Double Dragon (2019 Special Edition): Blu ray / DVD

In the 1987 video game, the gamer plays as Billy or Jimmy Lee, who fights through the streets to save their mutual love interest, Marian. In the 1994 film, Billy Lee (Scott Wolf, Party of Five) and Jimmy Lee (Mark Dacascos, John Wick 3) are two wise crackin’ martial arts students who live in the near distant future where an earthquake has turned Los Angeles into a crumbling wasteland. The police are on call only during the day while the gangs run amok at night. A white gang overlord who calls himself Koga Shuko (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2) has stolen one half of the titular Double Dragon medallion and now has the ability to turn into a shadow and possess innocents. The Lee brothers and their mentor Satori (Julia Nickson) are in possession of the other half of the medallion.

Koga Shuko sends the many colorful gangs of “New Angeles” after our heroes. On the flipside, there is a gang of teenaged good-doers lead by Marian (Alyssa Milano, Charmed) who call themselves the Power Core. They make it their mission to pick up the police department’s slack. The Lees team up with Marion to take down Koga Shuko and steal his half of the Double Dragon pendant.

The almost literal elephant in the room is the oversized muscular baddy Abobo who is also featured in the video games. In the movie, he gets mutated into an even more oversized and muscular thing whose head looks like a sack of potatoes. He looks extremely ridiculous and develops body image issues and flatulence.

The filmmakers tried to make an action/fantasy/martial arts/post-apocalyptic movie to appeal to everyone. History would show that it didn’t appeal to anybody. Nobody saw it due to limited releasing and critics hating it. Rightfully so, it’s a pretty bad movie. But the kind of bad movie you watch in its entirety and then invite your friends over to watch it again the next day. You won’t care about the plot as much as you just like looking at regular Cleveland doubling as a destroyed Los Angeles. You’ll be distracted from the phoned-in acting by a seven-foot-tall undead mutant wearing a basketball jersey. The lack of actual martial arts will go unnoticed when you see Robert Patrick turn into two samurai sword-wielding goblins. It’s pure culty goodness/badness.

The print they used for the movie is very nice for those who like that kind of aesthetic. The special features on this release feature interviews with the screenwriters who explain why a small studio (Imperial Pictures) had to make a Double Dragon movie as quickly as they could before they lost the rights. Scott Wolf and Mark Dacascos are interviewed and are mostly embarrassed by their performance—and not so much the movie. And for the die-hards, there is a pilot for the extremely terrible Double Dragon animated show. –Rick V. (MVD, mvdb2b.com)

Dudes: Blu-ray / DVD

Penelope Spheeris movies have a long history of having hard-to-get releases. There was a time where every punk house had their coveted bootleg VHS tape of Decline of the Western Civilization. When the Decline trilogy was released on DVD in 2015, the world rejoiced.

The same thing happened with Spheeris’s 1987 punk western Dudes. The movie had a very limited release in theaters and an equally-as-small release on VHS. There was a time where the only way to get a copy of Dudes was by ordering a bootleg VHS through the Kung Fu Records catalog.

Dudes starts off at a Vandals show, where we see the protagonists being thrown around in the pit to “Urban Struggle.” They are Milo (Flea), who wears coffee mugs on his leather jacket. Mohawk-sporting Biscuit (Daniel Roebuck). And the punk everyman, Grant (Jon Cryer). After a near-death experience, the trio decides it’s time to leave the big city and move to California.

On the way to California, the trio is bombarded by a gang of toughs led by Missoula (Lee Ving), who rob them and kill Milo. From this point on, the movie is no longer the fun punk road trip movie you may have expected. Biscuit and Grant go on a manhunt to find the gang and get revenge. But being city boys, they aren’t good at it. Not until they run into Jesse (Catherine Mary Stewart), who teaches them how to shoot and survive. Suddenly, Grant is dressed like a desperado with a bullet belt and fingerless gloves. And after having a Native American battle dream, Biscuit starts dressing and acting like a bad Native American stereotype. That aspect of the movie is truly cringe-worthy. Especially when they have spiritual hallucinations after they drink some special firewater given to them by an Elvis impersonator.

Despite those scenes, the movie is enjoyable. And when it’s bad, it’s enjoyably bad. The jokes are corny and the action is whatever. However, you do get the urge to re-watch it after it’s over to revisit the dramatic changes the characters go through. It starts with New York punks kicking pavement to two cowboys shooting at members of Fear in the desert.

This release is the first time the movie has been available on disc format. And it does look much nicer than that copy of a copy, of a copy, of a copy, that made its rounds years prior. The special features include Penelope Spheeris interviewing the main cast. There are some pretty good anecdotes about Biscuit’s mohawk, Jon Cryer being thrown into the pit, and Flea being discovered by Spheeris eating lasagna at Lee Ving’s house. You also learn that Lee Ving is terrified of asbestos.

It’s very cool that Penelope Spheeris’s pre-Wayne’s World movies are finally getting their time in the sun. Now Shout Factory, if you’re reading this, it’s time to re-release Hollywood Vice Squad. –Rick V. (shoutfactory.com)

Bad Reputation: DVD

This is a documentary about modern day saint of rock’n’roll, Joan Jett. She had one goal ever since she received a crappy electric guitar from Sears as a gift as a preteen: to play in a band. The film starts with Jett discovering weirdos at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco where she met corrupt Kim Fowley, who throws her in the Runaways. This documentary fills a gap that Edgeplay: A Film about the Runaways (2004) left due to Joan Jett’s refusal to be a part of it. This time we get to hear Runaways songs and see footage of their European and Japan tours. There is a lot of interesting stuff about Joan and the final days the Runaways. Did you know she hung around in the England punk scene and recorded the first version of “I Love Rock N’ Roll” with Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols? And did you know she had a heart attack in her early twenties?

Joan Jett had to put away her bad habits and turn her life around at an extremely early age. But that still didn’t make it any easier for her to get radio stations or record labels to pay attention to her music. She grew up in the 1970s when radio stations were told to only play one woman artist per hour. Jett and her lifelong producer Kenny Laguna started their own label and were the early adopters of selling records at shows. Although Jett was considered a major label artist, she did a lot with punk bands, like producing the Germs record, singing for the Gits, and being real tight with Bikini Kill.

Most rock documentaries usually have an act in the middle showing where things get dark for the subject matter. I feel like Bad Reputation doesn’t focus on that. Joan is usually positive about the dips in her career and, for the most part, just wants to keep going. There is a huge list of people I like saying nice things about Joan Jett: Don Bolles, Debbie Harry, B.J. Armstrong, Kathleen Hanna, Adam Horovitz, Ian MacKaye, Mike Ness, Laura Jane Grace, Shepard Fairey, Pat Smear, and Michael J. Fox.

If you weren’t a fan of Joan Jett before seeing this, you will definitely have a mantle dedicated to her afterwards. I’ll end with a quote from Razorcake contributor Ben Snakepit. “At the end I was bawling like Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona, ‘I love her so much!’” –Rick V. (badreputationfilm.com)

D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage: DVD/Blu-ray

Released in 2017, this is the first legit U.S. release of D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage, which was originally shot in 1978. The documentary started as an attempt to capture the Sex Pistols first (and subsequently last) U.S. tour by High Times magazine founder Tom Forçade. The film contains great raw footage of the Sex Pistols and their audiences. The crowd was about two-thirds punks and punks trying hard to be punks. That final third was people who bought tickets just to throw bottles or fight the Sex Pistols. There are some pretty wild interviews with some of the kids who came to the shows or were just hanging around at the time. Most notable are a moody kid with tape stuck in the shape of an “X” on their face and a woman just lying on the ground in the parking lot complaining about security.

The Sex Pistols U.S. tour footage only makes up about half of the documentary. Scattered throughout, there’s footage from England capturing the natural habitat of the ’70s fashion punk. This best stuff is shot in these segments, including awesome clips of actual enjoyable bands like X-Ray Spex, Generation X, the Rich Kids, Sham 69, and of course Terry And The Idiots. You’ve never heard of Terry And The Idiots? Well, they’re real bad and their frontman Terry Sylvester is worse. He makes for great content in the film, along with an interview with a very high and sleepy Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.

Throughout the documentary you get: southerners mourning Elvis, a nameless band with a nun playing a harmonica, a kid playing with a rope, a self-described “Anti-Smut Crusader,” and the Sex Pistols’ dumb lyrics subtitled during their shows.

The standout special feature on this DVD/Blu-ray set is Dead On Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was—a feature length documentary about the antics that went around filming the movie. You see, Tom Forcade had everything he would need to put the original documentary together. He got director Lech Kowalski, a couple of 16mm cameras, and an Atlanta film crew. However, he had no actual access to the shows or the members of the band. The Sex Pistols were apparently surrounded by hired biker bodyguards, their eccentric manager Malcolm McLaren, and executives from Warner Brothers Records. They had to disguise themselves as reporters to get into the shows. John Holmstrom and Roberta Bayley of Punk magazine fame tagged along with the film crew on that tour and regale some hilarious and horrifying experiences. There is even an interview with Lamar St. John (The previously mentioned woman laying down the parking lot) who drove from San Francisco to Texas with her friends to see the Sex Pistols.

The documentary about the documentary was much more educational and I highly recommend watching it if you are into punk history. John Holmstrom is like a human ’70s punk database. –Rick V. (MVD Visual, mvdvisual.com)

Us Festival, The: 1982 The Us Generation: DVD

In 1982, Steve “The Woz” Wozniak was flush with cash following the success of the computer company he co-founded, Apple. Looking to festivals past and wanting to inspire a more community- and tech-oriented generation stressing a sense of “us” rather than the “me” generation he saw in the 1970s, he decided to spend some of his cash on a festival of his own held at Glen Helen Regional Park (now Glen Helen Amphitheater) in San Bernardino, Calif. over Labor Day weekend, 1982.

Split into themed “days” focusing on new wave, rock, and more eclectic fare, gracing the stage were many of the era’s top acts—Ramones, Talking Heads, Gang Of Four, The B-52’s, The Police, Tom Petty, Pat Benatar, The Cars, Eddie Money, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and so on—spread out over the three-day weekend, playing for several hundred thousand attendees. Despite triple-digit weather, more than a hundred arrests, several drug overdoses and reported twelve million dollars in losses, Woz threw another, even bigger festival the next year.

Documenting the first Us Festival, this film is largely skint on actual performances by most of the bands—you get a full song from the odd band and brief snippets of footage from many others—and flush with talking head testimonials from the guys who pulled it off yakking about the challenges of mounting a large-scale event and about the genius that is Steve Wozniak for wanting to do so in the first place. Nowhere near as engrossing or culturally significant as the documentaries Woodstock or Gimme Shelter, the results are oddly focused more on one man and the small group of people he employed to make his dream come true, rather than the collective “us” in the name of the festival they created. –Jimmy Alvarado (MVD Visual, mvdvisual.com)

Records Collecting Dust II: DVD

The first installment of this two-film (at least so far) series was largely centered on the West Coast, with a gaggle of punker icons from that side of the country sharing their record collections and ruminating about their first purchases, specific items they think are particularly significant/favorites, and so on. This time ’round the filmmakers head to the other coast to enter into similar conversations with scene luminaries Al Quint, Cynthia Connelly, and Mike Gitter, as well as members of Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, Dag Nasty, Fire Party, FUs, Gorilla Biscuits, Government Issue, Helmet, Iron Cross, Jawbox, Jerry’s Kids, Minor Threat, Mission Of Burma, Moving Targets, Prong, Scream, Sheer Terror, Shudder To Think, Slapshot, SOA, Swiz, The Freeze, and Underdog.

As with the previous installment, the results are surprisingly engaging, focusing on the role of music on some of American punk’s heaviest hitters as fans rather than musicians. The discussions come off as sincere, intelligent, and more about inspiration—some of which are pretty surprising considering the bands repped here—rather than “look at this cool fuckin’ record I got that you wish you had, losers.” It’s no easy feat to string a series of talking heads waxing poetic in a visual art form about an aural art form, but they pull it off well here, resulting in a film that’s interesting and thoughtful. –Jimmy Alvarado (MVD Visual, mvdvisual.com)

Everything Is Not OK: DVD

If I get anything from this video, it’s that Everything Is Not OK Fest in Oklahoma City has to be a fucking riot. However, I’m not the audience for this. I know shittily-recorded, live shows are inseparable from punk rock, but my patience for them completely dissolved way back when I got my first car and could travel from my shitty town to see bands myself. That said, there’s probably not a lot to see here for someone who didn’t attend this fest in 2018. With a single song per band, you don’t get to watch a full set of a band you like—gauging the recording’s value against your sheer love of their music. Instead, it’s a jarring mess of good bands with bad sound quality, bad bands with bad sound quality, and okay bands with bad sound quality. If you were there, you’d get excited, thinking stuff like, there I am!, I remember this!, or maybe, I had memorable but unremarkable sex with that person! I don’t fucking know! Anyway, there were a ton of bands on this DVD, some I liked more than others, but that’s irrelevant, saying more about how well their songs translated to the muddy recordings (I haven’t heard of any of these bands), so I’ll just mention a few, arbitrarily: Xen Wolf, Bad Example, Tamagotchi Teenage Dirtbag, Blystex, BAUS, and Natural Man. –Craven Rock (Big Plan Pictures)

Piss on You: Winnipeg’s Early Punk Scene: DVD Directed by Katheryn Martin

I am a huge fan of localized punk scene documentaries, especially Canadian ones. Here, we have a historic retelling of how punk started in Winnipeg, Manitoba. For those not in the know, Winnipeg is one of Canada’s most remote major cities. It’s long prairie drives in every direction until the next city center. The fact that so many punk rock heavy hitters came out of the city is a wonder on its own. Having seen similar documentaries on other cities such as Vancouver and Victoria, it is telling how the Canadian punk rock experience is surprisingly similar from coast to coast.

The story goes like this. A few social outcasts hear about something called “punk rock” in the news, later discover the sounds of the Ramones, Sex Pistols, or The Clash, decide they can do it, too, and now you have a scene. In Winnipeg, early bands such as Le Kille and The Nostrils gave rise to internationally known bands such as Stretch Marks, The Unwanted, and the indomitable Personality Crisis.

The film takes us on a tour of 1970s Winnipeg—of sketchy bars that would allow punk and sketchier punk houses that bred bands almost as fast as they bred dysentery. (That is a bit of a fallacy. The most legendary punk house was named The House of Beep because everyone who lived there drank copious amounts of a sugary, Canadian orange drink called Beep in an attempt to keep their vitamin C intake up to avoid scurvy and the like.) There is plenty of quality archival footage from shows as well as a local access TV program that featured underground music.

All of the bands involved have at least one member talking on camera, as well as the requisite appearance of DOA’s Joey Shithead. If you are unaware of Personality Crisis, just stop and search them out now. Now that your mind is blown, continue on. The footage on PC and Stretch Marks is brilliant for sure, but I was really excited to learn about previously unheard of (by me) bands like The Ruggedy Annes and Dub Rifles. The film flows well and doesn’t repeat itself too much. It provided a good look at a punk rock community that is rarely heard about in the larger scheme of things. I like that. Apparently the disc is hard to come by, but well worth the search. –Ty Stranglehold (No address listed)