Bill Direen: A Memory of Others: DVD

Two types of music documentary are becoming very formulaic. One is the obligatory doc about a seminal band with a boring origin story. The second is a documentary about how mainstream success has eluded some artist. In A Memory of Others, director Simon Ogston dodges the typical pitfalls of the latter while still exposing the enigmatic career of Bill Direen to a larger audience. Ogston breaks from convention, not by dramatically categorizing the ups and downs of Direen’s career in a conventional timeline, but instead choosing to showcase Direen’s phases based on the flow of their discussions.

Direen is New Zealand’s punk-Shakespeare, similar to John Cooper Clarke or Jim Carroll. He’s played in punk bands, written poetry, and done experimental theater. Direen is a humble optimist with rough charisma. Ogston follows Direen on a recent tour of coffee houses, art spaces, and small bars in New Zealand. Direen makes music, gives talks, and reads poetry in front of small gatherings of enthusiastic fans, all the while gently proselytizing about what it means to be an artist through discussions about his career.

Ogston takes a refreshing turn by utilizing few talking head interviews and their footage of the New Zealand landscape is masterful. The only frustration with the film comes with the decision to tell the story out of order. There is no cataloguing of bands’ eras, more or less. As the film unfolds, it makes sense in congress with Direen’s attitude towards art. The film paints a portrait of an interesting artist and a nice guy who is relatively happy with what his compulsion to create has brought him in life. He’s an inspiring man and the film does Direen’s attitude justice. –Billups Allen (Self-released)

GG Allin—All in the Family: DVD

As a new age of barbarism is dawning across America, it seems like a good time to drop in on everyone’s favorite punk rock barbarian, GG Allin. And though the new documentary GG Allin: All in the Family gives no indication of GG’s possible political leanings—a true anarcho-primitivist nihilist is not easily plotted on the conventional left/right political spectrum—it’s intriguing to speculate if GG could be claimed by the barbarians of the Alt Right now that they’ve asserted republicanism as “the new punk rock.” His mongoloid misogynism is guaranteed to set off a million #MeToo alarms and not even the most primped and pumped-up Proud Boy could touch him in raw yobbish political incorrectness. “GG Allin, Conservative Icon” may sound absurd at first, but is anything really absurd anymore in the socio-political realm?

Unlike Todd Phillip’s 1993 GG documentary Hated, where the Allin family was a mere footnote to Kevin Allin’s Rock’n’roll Terrorist act, what’s front and center here is, as the punny title states: ALLIN, the family. That would be brother Merle, GG’s mom Arleta and, to a lesser extant, the damaged drummer Dino Sex. Each is shown going about their post-GG life, each dealing with their grief with their own reconstructive narratives, as the psychologists say. It would be oversimplified, but it could be crudely said that the spirit of Kevin primarily lives on through the filtered memories of Arleta, while the spirit of GG primarily lives on through the filtered memories of Merle. Each has chosen their own ghost to haunt them.

Merle, for example, basically lives in a GG shrine which doubles as a GG Allin merchandise warehouse. And incidentally, Merle is in the privileged position, solely because of his infamous brother, of being able to profit from scooping his own mushy grunt-pie out of the toilet, brushing it onto a canvas and selling that canvas as an object d’art. Similar to how Donny Trump Jr. is—solely due to his relationship to the pear-shaped plutocrat currently infesting the White House—able to scoop the brain turds from his own cranial cavity, compress them into book form, and profit from it. Fame and infamy are funny things.

No concrete answers are given to the question of what caused Kevin to transmogrify into GG. That mystery is left hanging like a pair of besmirched underpants on Arleta’s clothesline. But disturbing hints are dropped about Merle Sr., GG and Merle’s father, who looms over this film like a twisted specter and who only peeks out of the interstices of the storyline briefly. One can only guess what sort of “Daddy-Dearest” secrets disappeared with that kook.

If TV execs are paying attention: this fascinating, almost Dadaistic showcase of the Allin family should be fleshed out into a TV series, one that would make The Osbournes look like Leave It to Beaver. And then maybe Merle, Arleta, and Dino can be the new Reality TV family to finally dislodge our embarrassing national fixation on the Kardashians. I think that would make GG proud. –Aphid Peewit (MVD visual, MVDvisual.com)

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)