1991: The Year Punk Broke
Directed by Dave Markey. Starring Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, Gumball, the Ramones. (1992, NR, 99 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 4, 1992
The first punk rock tour documentary? Hardly. The early Eighties produced a mini-tsunami of films and videos chronicling the goings-on within the punk scene, on the road and otherwise. Most of these were shot on video -- the burgeoning VCR and camcorder market made it easy for people (notably the folks at SoCal's Flipside fanzine, who churned out nearly 20 volumes of hardcore and underground bands performing in poorly lit, acoustically lacking venues) to capture those, um, special moments for posterity. As far as tour films go, 1982's Another State of Mind stood [skin]head and shoulders above anything else up to that point, following the misadventures of hardcore bands Youth Brigade and a then more-or-less unknown Social Distortion on their disastrous North American tour. Dave Markey's (Desperate Teenage Lovedolls) new micro-epic comes across in much the same way as its precursors: it's a snarling, loudly exultant record of Sonic Youth's 1991 European tour, bursting at the seams with lunatic concert footage, inspired backstage antics (Dinosaur Jr.'s singer spouts a genuinely hilarious riff on the group's deli plate that might give Robin Williams a run for his money), baffling contract riders, and self-deprecating humor from the groups, themselves. Employing the DIY attitude that New York-based Sonic Youth have espoused from day one (and still manage to hang on to, despite their having signed with corporate rock monster the David Geffen Company a couple of years back), Markey relies solely on primitive 8mm cameras to catch the frenzied, delirious goings-on. After 99 minutes of his perpetually shaky camerawork and scattershot editing, you almost feel as though you were there yourself, headache, hangover, hearing loss and all. As befits its subject, the sound quality varies throughout the film -- then-unknowns Nirvana sound like they're playing in a someone's closet most of the time, with Sonic Youth faring only slightly better (usually). Talking about the massive European crowds the bands are drawing, Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore muses, “Our audience is expanding; my mind is turning into a fine gelatinous ball of pepper.” Director Markey knows exactly what he means, and offers it to us in all its gritty, dangerously popular punk rock glory.