Directed by Paul Rachman. (2006, R, 100 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 17, 2006
Ancient history lesson: During the winter-spring-summer of 1985-86 I booked, rented, and ran an all-ages punk rock venue in the North Texas cowtown of Amarillo. Situated smack dab in the middle of east-west thoroughfare Interstate 40, I was ideally positioned to lasso white-line-weary touring bands off the road and into a cavernous former bakery I dubbed The Web. Paid in showers and beer (and grateful for both), everyone from a fledgling NOFX to Canuck oddballs NoMeansNo shook the rafters and terrified the locals. Black Flag's wall of Marshall amps rocked with such preposterous subsonic gusto that decades-old mounds of bakery flour sifted down onto the mini-crowd and turned Henry Rollins' sweat-drenched black mane downright gooey. This was hardcore. Rachman's exhaustive documentary on this U.S. hardcore scene that lasted from 1980 to 1986 (roughly paralleling Ronald Reagan's time in the Oval Office), is both a smart dissection of the whys and wherefores (Reagan, preppies, Wall Street = bad; suburban angst, minor musical skills, passion, and an overriding do it yourself ethic = good), and a vivid glance back at a pre-Internet, pre-cell phone, post-peace-and-love youth movement that, for a moment, anyway, burned as bright as a solar flare, spitting fire and fun, fun, fun and peppering the map with small-town scenes rife with big-town drama. Something of a companion piece to author Steven Blush's terrific book of the same name, American Hardcore tracks the viral spread of hardcore from SoCal originators like the Circle Jerks and Black Flag; down to Lone Star yahoos the Big Boys, Really Red, Culturcide, Millions of Dead Cops, and the Dicks; east to D.C.'s legendary 9:30 clubbers Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Dischord records; and into the big rotten Apple, home of the Cro-Mags, Jack Rabid, and the Beastie Boys. Crammed with grainy, shot-on-the-fly mid-Eighties video footage, more recent talking head interviews (Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks charmingly comes off as something of a bespectacled, dreadlocked punk rock grandpappy), and an unmistakably genuine love for its subject, American Hardcore encapsulates a largely forgotten (by the mainstream, that is) moment in maximum rock & roll history. DIY to a fault, it's a rough and tumble, scrappy affair, but for once this only adds to the charm. And whaddaya know? Twenty-five years on, the kids have finally had their say.