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Movie Review: Punk’s Not Dead

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Growing up in Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s, I was able to witness an incredible moment in punk history first-hand. I fell in love with punk rock as a teenager and began photographing bands like Minor Threat, The Circle Jerks, UK Subs, and Stiff Little Fingers, to name just a few. –Director Susan Dynner

In the mid-nineties, I was in Tower Records Boston with former Bad Religion drummer Bobby Schayer. He pulled out a book about the history of punk and excitedly turned to a page that showed the crowd at a Black Flag gig. “That’s me in the crowd,” Bobby enthused. “I was about 15.” He insisted on buying me the book. I knew I wouldn’t read it though I realized I probably should.

The punk I like is The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Ramones, Green Day, The Offspring, Rancid, Social Distortion, and My Chemical Romance.

Punk, as we know it, celebrates its 30th anniversary, and this film provides the ideal showcase for it. Punk’s Not Dead blasts through the 30-year journey from underground to mainstream. Live concert footage from bands such as The Exploited, GBH, Minor Threat, The Addicts, Fugazi, and UK Subs are interwoven with interviews fomr legendary punkers like Derek O’Brien of Social Distortion, Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra, UK Subs, Joe Escalante of The Vandals, The Subhumans, and Bad Religion, to second generation punk rock’s Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and Dexter Holland of Offspring to the reactionary and defensive third generation punk bands like The God Awfuls, Good Charlotte, Sum 41, and My Chemical Romance. (Of these bands, Newsweek’s music critic Lorraine Ali nails it: “They’re pop and they have some punk trimmings.”).

I’m surprised it took as long as it did with punk. The music was so intense it delayed the inevitable mass embrace. I figured it was going to happen sooner or later because the music was too good. –Jello Biafra, Dead Kennedys

Punk’s Not Dead deftly asks and answers many questions about punk and its influence on our culture. It also leaves plenty to discuss and brood over. There’s the DIY spirit to the Vans Warped Tour. There’s the creation of indie punk labels like Epitaph and Dischord to major label deals for some. When Buzzcocks had hits with songs like “Love Song,” many called sell-out. Steve Diggle of the Buzzcocks said, “Love is still an important thing in the whole scheme of things. We were as political as The Clash and The Pistols in an existential way.”

If you decide ‘I’m the most punk guy in the world and I’m going to have nothing to do with corporate America,’ you’ll have to sit in your house and never go outside. –Jim Lindberg, Pennywise

Documentarian Susan Dynner addresses how punk started, the act or art (however one may interpret it) of “selling out,” and what really defines punk and makes a punk band. Clips from Quincy M.E. (“That music I heard was a killer.”) and a classic Donahue with a pierced, Mohawk-ed teen and his exasperated parent present the fear that punk provided. Then there’s the cool quotient as evidenced by The O.C’s Marissa Cooper spieling off names of bands she listens to (The Cramps, The Ramones) “because she’s angry and a Gilmore Girl explaining the educated punk rockers: “the guy from Bad Religion is getting his PhD in molecular biology from Cornell.”

Those who consider themselves punk have different interpretations. Often there’s even a competition among fans to be as “punk” and DIY (read: sometimes slumming it) as can possibly be. Some bands are that way too. Is it a look or an attitude?

Punk’s Not Dead is a provocative, electric film.

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