It’s sometimes hard to review videos featuring footage from punk’s earlier generations. Sure, the sound of Don Lett’s The Punk Rock Movie is absolutely atrocious, but where else is one gonna find footage like that? The segment where Eater plays “No Brains” and takes a machete to a pig’s head alone visually encapsulates the desire of punk’s first wave to shock people into paying attention. Further, how many other places is one going to find footage of Wayne County & The Electric Chairs, Slaughter & The Dogs and others in their punk prime? The same goes for the films in question here.
Punk in London’s sound is sometimes frightfully bad, but the rare performance and interview footage of bands like The Clash (including a good set of them playing in Munich tacked on as a DVD extra), X Ray Spex, The Jam, The Adverts, Subway Sect, Boomtown Rats, Chelsea, and even Killjoys (featuring Kevin Rowland, who later became lead singer of Dexy’s Midnight Runners) often more than makes up for the accompanying deficiencies in recording quality.
The same goes for its sequel, Punk in England. In both cases, director Wolfgang Büld managed to be in the right place and right time—U.K. punk’s birth for the former and its metamorphosis into the myriad hues of post-punk for the latter. Holdovers from London, like the Adverts, the Jam, and The Clash, connect the two and show how their sound moved to more nuanced places in a short span of two or three years, but the real meat of England is its amazing footage from the birth of the Two Tone movement, with live performance from Madness and The Specials and of the Selecter in the studio as they record songs for their debut album. With what looks like an actual budget in place and access to soundboards at the gigs covered, the sound quality of England is also markedly improved from that of its predecessor. Even the footage of the Pretenders in their rehearsal studio sounds great by comparison.
Also of no less importance is a short piece called Women in Rock, which is tacked onto England as a DVD extra. Apparently filmed around the same time, its structure is more like a formal documentary and features The Slits, Siouxsie & the Banshees, and Girlschool performing and discussing the plight of women in rock circa 1980. Again, the sound quality and performances are quite good and will no doubt prove invaluable to the collections of folks interested in the nascent years of the new wave. –Jimmy Alvarado (mvdvisual.com)