Don Letts excellently defines the inspirations, motivations, and bastardizations of the tempo, tone, and texts that has become the true mantra of 'punk' ideology. The daringness to be different, and the humility to be truly good at it. It's relatively easy to rile kids up with fast danceable beats and catchy redundant riffs. But unlike any other form of music and associated devoted and/or marketable style that goes along with it, punk is without constriction or conformity. Sure, punk bands may have a catchy riff or two, and can maybe 'sell out' with a song or particular album. But it had meaning, a disdain, a need, a total love/hate for it's own medium. If Martin Luther only had spray paint back in the day, and a printing press. I think he would've painted on the church doors 'F*CK YOU!', and then tacked his proclamation beneath it. It would've got more attention sure. But less 'true' followers who dared approach the door to 'read the fine print' than Lutherans currently have gained. And is truly fascinating how the outright different and defiant were perceived, labeled, and avoided. Unlike any other form of music, punk constantly challenges the passer by to devoted listener to ask 'why?'. And by and large, there was a message behind it, an honest emotion, a purposeful intelligence and creativity. And much like religions, it split apart to these self serving 'sects' of the totally explorative (IE; Public Image Ltd.) the devout mainstays (IE; The Clash), and the extremists (IE; The Dead Kennedy's) I honestly believe without 'punk' entering the scene, we wouldn't have 'gay marriages' today, nor would we have the Taliban and other extremist groups. It's the true biblical 'Punk can giveth, and punk can violently taketh away'. For those that could boldly stand in front of it all and ask 'why?Read more ›
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Where did the Punk movement come from & where did it go to?Oct. 9 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
Sometimes it does feel like punk never happened but, peel back the surface in a great many areas, especially in much literature and many films, and talk to some people in their teens and 20s and the true influences are still certainly there, albeit maybe a little beneath the surface.
If the question "where did the Punk movement come from & where did it go to?" has ever run through your brain then Don Lett's film "Punk Attitude", together with Jon Savage's book "Englands Dreaming", are the best places (so far) to start looking to answer this. They also both help explore the ways the movement influenced many peoples lives, and not only the musicians involved, especially in regards to getting them involved - to be players and not just spectators, also clearly demonstrating that it's still relevant to the FUTURE.
"Punk Attitude" makes it very clear that punk didn't all start with the Ramones in the US and the Sex Pistols & Clash in the UK and that punk = an attitude, not a hair cut or a style of clothing - just in case people might think otherwise! Although all three bands were hugely influential when they formed in the mid 70s, and still are very much so now nearly 30 years later, they didn't come from out of nowhere and had their own host of influences back to Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and on through the British Invasion groups like the Who, Kinks and Small Faces. These groups in turn influenced the Standells, Sonics and Count Five and then on through the Velvet Underground, Doors, Stooges, MC5 plus the New York Dolls. Letts explores this cross polination and influencing process very well in "Punk Attitude", without turning it into a boring navel gazing university thesis style analysis that would have been totally inappropriate for such subject matter.
So what makes him qualified to do this? Don Letts is one of the very best placed people to make a documentary of this type. A very early player on the UK Punk scene, and prior to this even as a rag trade rival to Malcolm McLaren and Viv Westwood, he went on to dj at London's Roxy Club in 1977 and manage the Slits. At the time he was not a musician, Punks impact upon him was to make him realise he could be a film maker. He subsequently filmed many of the key bands of the era on Super 8 for what became "Don Lett's Punk Rock Movie" featuring the Banshees, Clash, Heartbreakers, Sex Pistols, X Ray Spex and the Slits. Some of this material, plus much previously unreleased live footage and recently shot interviews, surfaces in "Punk Attitude".
Letts covers the UK 76/77 era scene very well in the film (he was THERE after all!) as well as the New York scene. LA possibly gets a little unfairly overlooked, with no mention of X being a surprising omission. John Lydon is also intriguingly omitted, especially as Letts and he were and are good friends, but it's not as if Mr Lydon hasn't had his say previously. Syl Sylvain, Arthur Kane and David Johansen from the New York Dolls also help paint the pre 1976 New York picture, with Johansen mentioning how terrible he thought the Ramones were when he first saw them!
Letts also uses interviews with people who were part of the various scenes but who were not musicians, most notably fellow film maker Jim Jarmusch whose contribution adds a great deal to conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells of the late 70s, early 80s New York scene as Punk evolved into No Wave and later Hard Core.
Of the musicians the Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto interviews help highlight very effectively that Punk wasn't just a London and New York phenomenom, as does Chrissie Hynde, Wayne Kramer covering Detroit and Henry Rollins enthusistically covering the early 80s musical evolution of Black Flag on through to Nirvana and the birth of grunge in the early 90s. So who's not included who arguably could/should have been? Patti Smith and Iggy Pop were both touring and unavailable when Letts was filming and Lou Reed.........well he was Lou Reed! ;-)
Look out for the UK limited edition 2 x dvd version with a host of excellent extra features including a very entertaining interview with Dave Goodman, the Sex Pistols live sound engineer and first studio producer, who sadly died in February 2005 thus making this one of his last interviews. The limited edition dvd also includes a facsimile of 2 copies of the early UK fanzine "Sniffin Glue".
All in all this is VERY highly recommended viewing! Why only 4 stars out of 5? Probably only because Letts would have been the best person to explore the UK 1977 reggae/punk crossover and it's not covered here in any depth......but maybe he's holding that back for another day. If you want only the music then don't buy this - it's a documentary on the whole scene. One day maybe Lett's "Punk Rock Movie" will make it to dvd and THEN you can get much of the music too!
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
not a genre, just a feelingJuly 24 2005
John P. Lennon
- Published on Amazon.com
Just saw the the Don Letts produced and directed film "Punk: Attitude" on The IFC channel tonight. I think it really nailed what Punk really is, while at the same time debunked and demystified what corporate media tries to tell us to believe it is. Much was left out. What do you expect for an hour and half film. Some intelligent interviews are seen in the film, namely Chrissie Hynde, Henry Rollins, and Jello Biafra. Jim Jarmusch offers some interesting viewpoints from outside the music scene. But a lot of cool information is jammed into this hour and a half. Henry, Jello, and Thurston Moore even get a little political at the end which brought a little smile of amusement to my face. I dug it. I liken it to a fabric, torn, with many disparete threads, tied together in the end, giving the semblance of a cohesive whole. A video essay if you will. Of course, the film is made up of just personal opinions. Who's to say if they are true? Who cares? But, these are the people who were there, in the middle of it, who saw it happen. Noticably missing was Lenny Kaye (who did his duty in an earlier film) and Johhny Rotten (who has had his say many times over). I think the one bit of knowledge that we can all gain from this is that Punk (whether you call it by that name or not) is that it is one of the most enduring of the rock genres. It means freedom. It spells freedom. It's about freedom. It's not about fashion or guitar volume or how fast you can play. It's an attitude.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An Incomplete, Yet Worthwhile, History of Punk.Sept. 24 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
I highly recommend this documentary for any punk rock fans, or fans of music history in general. Even if you don't like punk rock music, there is a lot to be learned from this film. This movie does a pretty good job of summing up why these people were making the music they were making, starting in the mid-60's, going through roughly 1980 in detail. The film includes interviews with many people who either made the music (New York Dolls, Suicide, The Damned, The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Ramones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks, and more...well, the members still alive who would agree to interviews, at least), and people who made music that was influenced by the first wave of punk rock (Henry Rollins, Jello Biafra, Thurston Moore, Agnostic Front).
What is "punk rock"? That seems to be the mission statement of the film. How do you define a style that bases itself in the idea of non-conformity? One of the most interesting things to learn from the film is that many of the bands who made the music in the late `70's seem to believe that punk died when bands started referring to themselves as "punk".
The film does have a few faults. There are some glaringly missing interviews. From the pre/proto-punk era, they did manage to get a brief clip of John Cale from The Velvet Underground, and members of MC5, but not one member of The Stooges? Without a lot of interviews from the pre/proto era, that part of the film plays a little like one of those VH1 shows, where they show a clip of something nostalgic, and then a famous person comes on and says something like, "I remember that. I like that." Fortunately, there isn't too much of that, though.
Another problem with the film is the glaring omission of the 80's. The film has members of Black Flag, Bad Brains, and the Dead Kennedys in the movie, and yet sticks to the premise that "punk died in the 80's and nothing happened until Nirvana". This is a poor statement to make, for two reasons. First, when they say that punk died in 1980, many of the band members come off like those aging hippies who wag their fingers at kids and say, "music hasn't been the same since the Beatles". Maybe this is because I lived in California, where in the 80's punk and skate culture went hand in hand, but off the top of my head I can think of Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Circle Jerks, D.O.A., Agent Orange, Descendents, Millions of Dead Cops, Subhumans, D.R.I., T.S.O.L., Minutemen, Suicidal Tendencies, Husker Du, Flipper, JFA, Dead Milkmen, DI, Drunk Injuns, and many more. Punk was alive and thriving, as far as I could tell. It just wasn't like the days when bands like The Clash and The Sex Pistols appeared on the record charts (which may have been a good thing).
Also, lightly touched on, was the 90's generation of punk. Think what you will about the pre-pop-punk like Pennywise, Vandals, Offspring, Green Day, Rancid, Dropkick Murphys, Swingin' Utters, NOFX, etc., like it or not, those bands are part of the "punk" legacy. Why would the movie mention Korn and Limp Biscuit, but not most of those bands? Fortunately the documentary does make the distinction between those bands, and bands like Blink182, Good Charlotte, and A Simple Plan, who represent the complete assimilation of punk into "the system", the true death of punk.
Well, shortcomings and all, this is still a wonderful movie that will provide you with a knowledgeable history of early punk rock. To fill in some of the blanks, I recommend seeing the movies "American Hardcore", "The End of the Century", "The Filth and the Fury", "Westway to the World", "We Jam Econo", "Repo Man", and "Devo - The Complete Truth About De-Evolution".
EDIT: For a complete punk history, do yourself a favor and watch "Punk Attitude" (~mid-sixties - 1981), "American Hardcore" (~1979-1986), and "Punk's Not Dead" (~1986-present). These three movies have come out in succession, all made by different directors. Yet, as luck would have it, they pretty much cover the span of punk history up to 2007. Also, some time in the next year (I'm writing this in 2007), "The Decline of Western Civilization" will finally be released on DVD.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Well done AttitudeJuly 26 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
I just caught this on IFC and found it to be a remarkably heartfelt journey into punk rock's greasy chasm. This is really the first Punk documentary I've seen that actually attempts to explore the punk thread way back to Jerry Lee Lewis (the Killer gets ample (vintage) screentime shaking his disheveled locks while standing atop a soon-to-be-torched grand piano.) Good attetion paid to
? Mark & the Mysterions, Standells, the Velvets, MC5 and John Sinclair, and of course, The Stooges, NY Dolls, Television, Suicide, The Ramones. Then we move to England and get The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks and the Damned. This section of the film is most succinct, perhaps due to Mr. Letts proximity at the center of the scene. This is very good, though, since it grounds the film a bit. I especially liked the "100-days-of-the-100-Club"
The film follows punk into the post-punk movement (maybe a doc of it's own in the future?) And back to the US where the NO-Wave movement finally gets its screen-time. Then it's pretty much all west-coast Black Flag stuff, until Nirvana comes along and ruins everything. I would have loved to have seen the Germs, Adolescents, especially X. But I'm sure there just wasn't room. Maybe Mr. Letts will make another film and keep going, digging deeper and wider. I hope so. The interviews are what make this film special. Though I could have done with a bit less Rollins. S'funny... lots of the older British punks almost seem to cultivate some kind of Dickensian thing in manner and looks. This was really entertaining and kind of comes off as the antithesis of something like "The Filth and The Fury" : take a gander at Mick Jones, et al. On the other hand, the years have been quite good to (X-Ray Spex) Polly Styrene.
This film is a wonderfully engaging punk rock history lesson.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
PUNK INSept. 30 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
I'm not a punk guy. Never have been. The furthest punk I've been is listening to a Van Halen album. That's why when I saw this movie I see that I am in and have no idea about what Punk was or is. Let's just talk about the film on it's merits. It's a fascinating look into a subculture of music that actually broke through the ceiling of cult and became a facet, a staple of music all over the world. It's the underclass rebellion put to three chord rock, intentionally pushing the boundries of comfortability for the rest of the world. This is one of those WELL DONE docs that don't seem to be made all that much anymore and I, though not a punk, recommend it heartily