The House Of The Rising Punk is a great little one-hour film chronicling the New York punk-rock scene of the late 1970s.
Since this film was originally made for television, it really only skims the surface of everything which made up that explosive, multifaceted community of assorted artists, misfits, and revolutionaries. Despite the relatively short run time, it does however do its subject the justice it warrants.
Although most of the key players are covered — from early influences like the Stooges and the Velvet Underground, to trailblazers like the Ramones, Blondie, and Talking Heads — there really isn't a lot in the way of new information here.
In fact, the real hook here for fans will be the never-before-seen live clips of artists like Patti Smith, Television, and the New York Dolls. The same fans will likely find that this footage — most of which was shot at the famed Bowery punk palace CBGB's — is also frustratingly brief, as I did.
But when The House Of The Rising Punk tells its story, it does it well. There are new interviews with Patti Smith, Dee Dee Ramone, and Television's Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, as well as CBGB's Hilly Krystal, writer Legs McNeil, and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, whose early punk-influenced films are also shown in snippets that are once again all too brief.
Although the focal point here is in fact CBGB's and the scene which sprang up around it, other contributing factors are also given the coverage they deserve.
There are segments on McNeil's short-lived Punk Magazine for example, which featured a bizarre mix of punk music and often-hilarious comic art complete with the sort of monsters that would later be popularized in Matt Groening's work on The Simpsons. It really is amazing just how far punk's reach would eventually become. Other landmarks like New York's infamous Chelsea Hotel are also given their due.
The most eye-opening thing about this documentary however, is just how different most of the New York bands who were lumped together under the punk label actually were.
Where the Dolls and the Ramones stripped everything down to a basic core of aggression and volume, bands like Television and the Patti Smith Group were actually taking a far more experimental tack. While Debbie Harry and Blondie were a throwback to the early rock of the sixties (they even used a farfisa organ), Patti Smith took the concept of spoken word, or "beat poetry," and gave it an actual beat.
And despite Legs McNeil's prattling on about how punk was a reaction to rock's then bloated virtuoso musicality, it really doesn't get more artistically pretentious than the Talking Heads when you get right down to it.
The story of course reaches its foregone conclusion when England sells punk rock back to America in the form of the Sex Pistols, and Seattle takes it to a mass audience with Nirvana more than ten years later. The interview segments with Dee Dee Ramone really bring all of this home — not so much because of what he says, but because of how he looks. For the guy who was one fourth of the band which most influenced much of everything that followed, its a sad picture that really is worth a thousand words.
For all of its shortness, The House Of The Rising Punk pretty much hits all of the key points and players of the brief supernova that was New York's '70s punk-rock scene. For students of rock history, it's a great crash course while for those who remember, it provides a nice recap.