Upon the advent of the DVD format into the VHS-driven (Betamax lost that analog throwdown) market, the rock ‘n’ roll documentary market became flooded with one smug and pretentious, paint-by-the-numbers vanity ego-doc unfurling at a mind-numbing pace with unrelatable and emotionless subjects spewing historically-skewed “facts” that were in desperate need of an editor: insert a brevity-lacking, babbling head here, a photo here, a backstage dust-up here, a performance clip here, etc., and so on. . . .
The end result: welcome to Walmart’s $5.00 electronics’ department cut-out barrels. Or be lost, swirling along the digital rims of TubiTV’s or Amazon Prime’s backwash.
That is not this movie.
This is a movie that, if somehow Mike Ness and French filmmaker Jean Rouch, the father of cinèma vèritè (who was still alive and cinematically active at the time), became friends, Another State of Mind would have been the movie they made.
This debut effort by the writing-directing team of Adam Small (later the writer of Pauly Shore’s Son in Law and In the Army Now, Jamie Kennedy’s Malibu’s Most Wanted, Disney’s upcoming hidden camera experiment, Epic Offenders) and Peter Stuart (became a prolific TV documentarian) should be held in the same regard as American documentarian D.A Pennebaker*, who applied his truthful, vèritè eye to rock ‘n’ roll and gave us an inside look at the life of Bob Dylan in Don’t Look Back (1967). Small and Stuart should be as revered as the Maysles Brothers, who upped vèritè game with their chronicle of the Rolling Stones in Gimme Shelter (1970). If staunch independent filmmaker John Cassavetes filmed Faces (1968), his Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, not as a vèritè tale of a middle-aged couple’s disintegrating marriage, but of an indie-punk band’s disintegrating tour, it would be Another State of Mind: a tale that, although it’s classified as a documentary, has more of a three-act, dramatic-narrative arc (like the just released 2020 chronicle of the life of Suzi Quatro, Suzi Q).
If you, like myself and everyone else of middle school and high school age at the time, were exposed to this — not via the poorly distributed Magnum VHS — through its mid-to-late ’80s multiple airings during the USA Network’s “Night Flight” weekend programming block (I watched it the first time and was hooked; the second time it ran, I taped it . . . segueing out of, of all things, the 1975 Dr. Who arc “Genesis of the Daleks,” courtesy of PBS), you know the story: a tale of how the good intentions of a group of friends disintegrates against life’s harsh realities of their career choices as musicians.
It all began when Small and Stuart became involved with The Better Youth Organization of Los Angeles, a family-operated record label (aka BYO Records) by the brothers Stern: Shawn and Mark of the band Youth Brigade**. Tired with the now poignant issues of police brutality (against youths) and the negative views by local city governments toward punk music and the scene (explored in the 2020 documentary Desolation Center starring ’90s alt-bands Sonic Youth and Firehose), the Stern’s decided to fight back: not with brawn, but brains.
So the Stern’s decided to join forces with their friend, Mike Ness, who fronted his own band, L.A.’s Social Distortion**, on a cross-county tour of the U.S and Canada — along the way, they meet up with their friend, Ian MacKaye, who fronted his own band in D.C., Minor Threat** — to promote punk music and the burgeoning “alternative” youth culture in a positive light: to prove that not all “punks” are criminals; that they are caring, articulate, and responsible for the world around them.
The six week, ten thousand mile tour from Los Angeles, up through Calary, Canada, and into D.C., among the 11 friends comprised of bands members and roadies, quickly falls apart amid clashing egos, overbearing political pontificating, cancelled shows, and a broken down and unrepairable old school bus that leads to poverty and hunger. Not only did the tour destroy the friendship between Ness and the Stern’s: Mike’s band broke up and left him stranded in D.C. Everyone returns to Los Angeles with bruised egos and hard feelings, victimized by the very unity they wanted to promote to the world.
As pointed out in my recent review of Liam Firmager’s perfectly brilliant Suzi Q: Adam Small and Peter Stuart eschew the predictable “talking head” pedestrian cookie cutters that slice away at so many doughy rock docs. They chose to tell a story that, while a “document” per se, it unfolds as a musical biographical drama. However, unlike other rock bioflicks, (the popular The Doors, Ray, and Walk the Line, along with emotionless-mimic Bohemian Rhapsody and the overly arty-pretentious Rocketman), Another State of Mind is a real story: one of no sugar-coated filtering to sweeten their subjects; one of no compression or compositing of characters or fabrication of pseudo-events for “dramatic effect” to present their subjects in a positive light. Rock stars aren’t the “superhero” savors of humanity: that’s the commercialized-attitude that crushed Cobain’s soul. Musicians are mortal human beings with hopes and dreams, success and regrets, joys and pain.
And that’s how you a make what many have said, is the “greatest rock ‘n’ roll documentary every made.”
Only it’s not a documentary. It’s one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll dramas ever made — Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman be damned.
Where to watch: Say what? No official online streams? Not even on TubiTV? Bogus! This should be streaming alongside Surburia, which they carry. Not even on You Tube Movies alongside The Decline of Western Civilization, X: The Unheard Music, Ladies and Gentleman: The Fabulous Stains, and Breaking Glass (all USA Network “Night Flight” also rans)?
Eh, no worries! We found three clean (free) rips direct from the uncut VHS (not from the edited USA “Night Flight” broadcast) on You Tube to choose from HERE, HERE, and HERE (caution: mild, brief female nudity courtesy of the gorgeous, sandwich shop-working death rocker, Valerie). But if you want the nostalgia of the “Night Flight” version, you can watch it HERE.
Caveat Emptor, ye ol’ tosser: While the 1984 Magnum Entertainment VHS clamshell version is available in the online marketplace, they’re ultra-rare and pricey. The 1991 cardboard-sleeved Time Bomb Records/Filmworks reissue version is more readily available and affordable. The 2004 U.S. DVD version by the Bicycle Music Company is easy to find and affordable. Euro-customers can pick up the Time Bomb/Epitaph and Kung Fu Europe versions (but know your regions and shipping fees).
Oh, and if you’re a VHS purist (like me) and eschew the DVD format whenever possible (I still rather watch my VHS-taped-from USA Network’s “Night Flight” version over my official VHS), you may want to yield to the DVD version: Mike Ness, the Youth Brigade’s Sean and Mark, along with Small and Stuart provide insightful commentaries.
And if you’re wondering: there’s no LP or CD soundtrack available (official or bootleg; one was never issued). But no worries, I re-created it on You Tube for you to enjoy.
Uh, oh. Here comes the asterisk non-sequiturs:
* Speaking of D.A Pennebaker: Since this is “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” at B&S About Movies — and we can’t get to everything — be sure to check out his rock chronicles Eat the Document (1966; also with Bob Dylan), the iconic Monterey Pop (1968), and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. There’s a reason why Pennebaker was granted an Academy Honorary Award Oscar in 2013. If you’re a rock dog: watch these movies.
** “These are real bands?” face-squinches Cindy, my then Aqua-Net poufed, non-punk versed girlfriend, her adorable ears awashed in the AOR spews of Loverboy, The Cars, and Quiet Riot. She actually thought Another State of Mind was all made up. . . . Which reminds of my ol’ stoned, college buddy, Steve. He thought This Is Spinal Tap was a real document on a real band: “No, dude. I’ve seen their records in the cut out bins. I definitely remember seeing Intravenus de Milo.” And his brilliant insight (laughing) when Nigel Tuffnel broke out the violin bow: “What a loser! Look! He’s trying to be Jimmy Page!” What can I say: weed, followed by a two servings cheesy-jalapeno nachos and Mr. Pibb chaser, don’t mix well with mockumentaries.
Anyway, to school ye masses on which bands are real and which bands are fake: Check out our “Ten Bands Made Up for Movies (and a whole lot more)” featurette. You need more rock flicks — both of the real and fake variety? Then check out our “Exploring 50 Gen-X Grunge Films of the ’90s” featurette.
Yes, Cindy. There really is a Social Distortion, Youth Brigade, and Minor Threat. And Santa Claus. Chicks.
Oh, and Steve runs a roofing company these days. Don’t call on him to fix your roof . . . not unless you want Jeff Spicoli swingin’ hammers on your abode.