American Hardcore is not a definitive history of hardcore music or punk rock. It's a documentary about a connected group of hardcore music scenes in cities across the USA. The documentary isn't only about the music but more about the culture of hardcore and the world inside and outside of the scene.
While there are some shortcomings to American Hardcore, all of them fade away once you start making your way through the special features. I will list both positives and negatives as I see them. But overall I still feel this movie is an important historical work.
To me, I think the filmmakers chose select musicians based largely upon a subjective definition of "hardcore" as a smaller part of the punk scene. As such, it is true that some groups were excluded. Yet it should be noted that there are other movies on the much larger punk scene. Legal issues surrounding certain groups also played a part in some of them being excluded. I think the criticism about the missing or lightly covered bands, while valid, has been over-emphasized.
When you watch this movie from start to finish as a sociological documentary on the hard-core culture, you will come away with a very good feel for the many different and diverse sub-cultures within the scene. That in and of itself is a great accomplishment.
One of the things we learn is the role of gay and minority musicians within the scene. This helps to eliminate the misconceptions about who made this music and who it was against. Another thing is also clear from the groups profiled in this movie: musicianship ranged from really poor to exceptional, and at the very top of that hierarchy was Bad Brains. The larger question of who was the "best" group is left untouched, which has created some backlash from hardcore purists who were expecting their favorites to be highlighted.
The documentary itself could have been better edited. The film is made up of clips of different former hardcore scene members discussing aspects of the music and the times. There seem to be way too many cuts from one person to the next, and they often move too quickly. While they have their names repeatedly captioned, I found myself having to pause and rewind to catch a lot of the names.
The whole Reagan theme really seemed over-played to me. The political aspects of hardcore definitely come through as important. Yet it seems to be so much more than that. I believe that hardcore would have rebelled against whoever was in power.
One thing I have not seen mentioned was the very light treatment of hardcore music within neo-nazi and other extremist groups. It is mentioned, but a true historical context would have included the other side of the coin regarding how people of color and other groups were treated and perceived by many hardcore fans.
The Special Features
If I had to rate the documentary alone, it might have been a lower rating. Going through the special features turned out to be the treasure trove I had been looking for. These special features add 3 stars on their own, and if I could I would have given this 10 stars.
Of course there is a standard writer and director commentary feature that lets aspiring film students and other history junkies get some background on the movie.
There are also 6 included recordings of historic live performances, including:
1. MDC - "Corporate Deathburger"
2. Bad Brains - "Big Takeover"
3. SSD - "Boiling Point"
4. Void - "My Rules"
5. YDI - "Enemy For Life"
6. Jerry's Kids - "I Don't Belong"
Several other more recent performances were included from premier parties for American Hardcore, one from DOA and one from Circle Jerks.
And there is also a very nice feature about the photography of Ed Colver which is used in the movie. The fact that these pictures were taken with a low end camera and lenses is even more amazing and totally consistent with the scene and the way this music was made.
Even the included previews were awesome, many of them about movies I've already seen and several about other music related features that I'm definitely going to see now. Sony Pictures Classics has been doing really great work bringing specialty music movies to the market.
The real gems in these features are the deleted scenes. This footage alone could have been used to make another movie, and most of it was good enough that it could have been included in the movie. There is over 1 HOUR of this stuff! Truly amazing, and thank you to the filmmakers for including this here. All movie companies should take note and start doing this. These extra clips have tremendous historical value for anybody who needs to research this topic in the future.
Would it have been nice to have an entire history of all of punk rock including all of the better known bands? Yes, but that's not what this is. After watching this I was left with a much greater respect for Sony Pictures Classics for making this at all. It is very difficult to invest the time and money to acquire, produce, market and distribute a movie like this.
Those who were not hardcore fans perhaps may have more to learn from watching this. Not all hard-core fans will be pleased with the documentary, but all should appreciate this DVD version much more if they watch all the extras that are included.
If you love learning about music you have a lot to gain from watching this.