In the age of vertical media integration, rock music in movies is more prevalent to the point of being a nuisance. All too often, a mediocre soundtrack is poorly woven into a narrative for the sake of cross promotion. Nowadays, there are bands that don’t seem to exist outside of the closing credits of youth culture-oriented films. But there was a time when a few in-the-know directors and a handful of rogue filmmakers began exposing punk rock in cinema.
Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film acts as a guide to depictions of punk rockers in movies from the late ‘70s to the late ‘90s. It is an excellent piece of research compiled over seven years. Through interviews with leading actors and filmmakers and thoughtful scene descriptions, the book establishes a body of work including over a thousand films where punk rockers are either depicted or misinterpreted.
The more prominent films are given the full treatment, including interviews and summaries establishing a hierarchy of punk rock movies. Pages are dedicated to some of the more renowned classics like Penelope Spheeris’s seminal documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, Alan Arkush’s Ramones vehicle Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and Dan O’Bannon’s punk zombie classic The Return of the Living Dead. Carlson and Connolly have compiled an astounding array of interviews with the major and peripheral players in these films.
But more than just a rundown of all the important movies, the attention given to the smaller entries creates a profile for how people of a certain mindset watch for themselves in the movies. A dissenter might not see the connection between films like the ones mentioned above and characters like Dynamo, the operatic killer in Paul Michael Glaser’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s short story The Running Man, or extras in the background at an art opening in Martin Scorsese’s segment in the short film collection New York Stories. Regardless of a character’s literal connection with an actual music scene, my ears would generally perk up at the slightest rumble of a punker, or a ridiculous representation thereof, appearing in a film during the years before punk rock became a mainstream phenomenon.
It is the minutiae of this book that makes it such a rich piece of work. More than just a guide to the best and the worst, the book distinguishes the performers and characterizations that inserted a bit of anarchy into cinema and embodies how fans perceived those films. (Fantagraphics, 7563 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115)