Rock ‘n’ Roll Week at B&S About Movies was a smashing success . . . one that can’t be contained in just one Drive In Friday* featurette! So, for this week only, we’ve opened up the Drive In for a special Saturday edition for you old punk codgers n’ sods. You know who you are . . . you were in middle school or high school during the advent of the cable TV boom and a fan of the USA Network’s “Night Flight” Friday night video programming block, channel surfing HBO and, later on, haunting the shelves of your local video store . . . so you’ll remember seeing these four punkumentaries. It’s been years since I’ve watched these gems myself, so this’ll be a fun night for all.
Oi! Hey, ho! Let’s go! All Aboard for Punk Night!
1. Punk In London (1977)
Director Wolfgang Büld bounced around the Germany film and TV industry since the early ’70s and made his English language debut with this German-produced documentary that accompanied the release of a coffee table book of the same name. The film features live performances — some of the footage and sound is of questionable quality — from some of the scene’s top bands, such as the Adverts, the Boomtown Rats, the Clash, the Lurkers, the Jam, Killjoys, the Sex Pistols, Sham 69, the Stranglers, and X-Ray Spex.
Büld followed up this document on the rise of punk rock with a sequel on “the fall” of punk rock, 1980’s Punk and Its Aftershocks, which featured the rise of the new, more commercial crop of ska, new wave, and mod bands that pushed out the punks, such as Madness, Secret Affair, Selector, and the Specials. As with any old VHS reissued to DVD, the reissues company had to tinker with the sequel and give it a new title (the lame “British Rock”) and edit out some footage from the original cut. Ugh!
The restored DVD digital rip of Punk in London currently streams on a variety of VOD platforms, but you can watch it for free on Flick Vaults’ You Tube channel. You can view a complete track listing of the bands and songs that appear in the film on Discogs.
Büld’s other punk documents include the hour-long 1980 TV document Women in Rock (leftovers not used in Punk In London), which centers on the German tours of British metalers Girlschool, along with Brit punkers the Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Nina Hagen (Cha Cha), along 1978’s with Reggae in Babylon centered on the career of English reggae pioneers Steel Pulse. Büld made his narrative, dramatic debut with the German language (dubbed into English) film debut of Nena (of “99 Luftballoons” fame) in Gib Gas – Ich will Spaß! (Hangin’ Out).
2. The Punk Rock Movie (1978)
And you thought the footage featured in Punk In London was rough . . . the grainy, shaky images and muddy sound of this debut film by British punk scenester and club DJ Don Letts makes Büld’s works look like award winners . . . but we thank Letts for gearing up that Super-8 camera to chronicle those 100 glorious days in 1977 when Neal Street’s fashionable disco The Roxy booked punk bands in the venue where Letts spun records.
The live acts and backstage interviews include Alternative TV, the Clash, Generation X (Billy Idol), Eater, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Slaughter and the Dogs, the Slits, Subway Sect, and X-Ray Spex. So, regardless of its home movie quality, the film serves as a vital document of London’s then burgeoning punk rock scene.
Letts went onto form Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones (after his firing from the Clash) and directed a number of short-form music videos (the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah”) and long-form TV and DVD documentaries, such as 2005’s Punk: Attitude (Euro TV/U.S. DVD) and Westway to the World, his 2003 Grammy Award-winning documentary on the Clash.
The Punk Rock Movie is available on a few VOD streaming platforms, such as Amazon Prime (region dependent), but there’s a VHS rip available on You Tube. You can review the film’s full track listing on Discogs.
. . . And Back to the Show!
3. D.O.A (1980)
London-born Polish documentarian Lech Kowalski’s feature film debut (he made a few shorts and TV films) centers around the 16-mm footage he shot during the Sex Pistols’ 1978 seven-city club ‘n’ bars tour of the United States — their only U.S tour — that ended with the band’s demise. The behind-the-scenes interview footage features the now infamous “John and Yoko” bed-inspired interview of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (You Tube). To fill out the short running time, Kowalski cut in performances and interviews with Iggy Pop, along with the Clash, the Dead Boys, Generation X, the Rich Kids (featuring ex-Pistols bassist Glen Matlock), Sham 69, and X-Ray Spex.
Lech’s other rock documents are 2002’s Hey! Is Dee Dee Home, about the life and times of Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramone (1952-2002), and 1999’s Born to Loose: The Last Rock ‘n Roll Movie, concerned with the life and career of Johnny Thunders (1952-1991) of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers (the second, at one time featured, Richard Hell from Blank Generation). Meanwhile, footage from D.O.A appeared in Julien Temple’s 2000 Sex Pistols document The Filth and the Fury (which I went to see in a U.S art house theatre setting).
4. Urgh! A Music War (1981)
. . . And we saved the best-produced documentary for last: this one dispenses with the backstage tomfoolery and goes right to the stage with professionally-shot footage compiled from a variety of 1980-era shows held in England, France, and the United States. And there’s a couple of reasons why the Police spearhead Urgh! A Music War: Not only were they the most commercially radio-successful “new wave” band of the groups featured; Derek Burbidge, the director, helmed several videos (the famous “Roxanne”) for the Police (he also did Gary Numan’s “Cars”), while Miles Copeland, the brother of the Police’s drummer, Stewart Copeland, managed the Police and operated IRS Records, which produced the film. The film briefly appeared in U.S. theatres via Filmways Pictures (seen it in an art house theatre, natch), but gained its cult status due to its frequent airings on HBO and the USA Network’s “Night Flight” video block.
Beginning in 2009, Warner Archive (the successor-in-interest to Lorimar Pictures, who co-produced with IRS) released an official DVD-R of the movie — burned on a made-to-order basis. As result, this one’s not available as a cable PPV or VOD online stream and the freebie You Tube and Vimeo rips don’t last long. However, searching “Urgh! A Music War” on You Tube populates numerous concert clips from the film. The bands you know in those clips are the mainstream MTV video bands the Police, Devo, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Gary Numan, Oingo Boingo, Wall of Voodoo, X, and XTC. The lesser known bands featured — that some know and most don’t — include L.A.’s the Alley Cats, the Dead Kennedys (Terminal City Ricochet), Magazine (off-shoot of the Buzzcocks), the Fleshtones (Peter Zaremba hosted IRS: The Cutting Edge for MTV), Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, 999, Pere Ubu, the Surf Punks, and Toyah Wilcox (Breaking Glass).
All images of the ’80s original issue VHS covers — the cover arts I remember when I rented them — are courtesy of Discogs.
* Be sure to join us for Sam’s “Drive-In Friday: Movie Punks” featurette.