Punk: Attitude is on par with standard VH-1 programming.

William D. Lee's picture

Everybody has their desert island discs, albums that they must have if they're stranded on a deserted island. I'd have to think long and hard for my selections, but the top of my list would probably include "Never Mind the Bollocks" by the Sex Pistols, "Rocket to Russia" by the Ramones, "London Calling" by the Clash, and "Germ Free Adolescents" by X-Ray Spex. Yes, all punk albums. I've been a huge fan of punk rock since I was thirteen and first heard "Anarchy in the U.K." Sadly, it was the cover version by Motley Crue from "Decade of Decadence" and not the original by the Sex Pistols. Yes, Motley Crue introduced me to punk. I checked the liner notes to the cassette, read that the song was by another band, and then found out more these Sex Pistol guys. You know what? They were pretty good. My eyes and ear holes were opened up to a whole new world of music.

Like all the best forms of music, punk was born as a form of rebellion. It was all about anti-establishment and a do-it-yourself attitude. It didn't matter if you couldn't sing or couldn't play an instrument. It didn't matter if you weren't good looking or dressed like a slob who rummaged through the dumpster of an S&M club. You certainly didn't need a lucrative record deal. You had something to say that could only be expressed by music and punk was the way to do it.

"Punk: Attitude" attempts the daunting task of chronicling the history of punk and its impact on the pop culture and music of today. The documentary was directed by Don Letts, a former DJ and founding member of Big Audio Dynamite with the Clash's Mick Jones. "Punk: Attitude" premiered at Tribeca in 2005 before airing on IFC a few months later. Letts has gathered together a who's who collection of luminaries to participate as talking heads. Mainstays like Henry Rollins, Steve Jones, Tommy Ramone, Glen Matlock, Jello Biafra, and Howard DeVoto provide their first hand experiences. Letts also speaks with many other musicians you don't usually hear from like Chrissie Hynde (who knew many of the main players while living in London), Captain Sensible, Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and the late-Ari Up, lead singer of the Slits, whom Letts managed briefly.

The documentary begins with talk of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and Chuck Berry and their unique performance styles that upset the status quo. From there, we get clips of bands like the Kinks and ? & the Mysterians and how the strong three chord rock of the British Invasion informed the sounds of punk. The doc also credits artists such as the Velvet Underground and Iggy Pop with further shaping what was soon to come. Emerging out of New York were Richard Hell and the Ramones. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the first wave of British punk bands was formed with the Sex Pistols, the Buzzcocks, and the Clash, among others. For any knowledgeable punk fan, this info will sound familiar. "Attitude" touches upon many famous moments in the genre's history such as the Pistols' infamous interview with Bill Grundy and their concert at Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Referenced in Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People," the concert was attended by future luminaries like Morrissey, founding members of Joy Division/New Order, and Factory Records founder Tony Wilson.

The fervor around punk begins dying down and the documentary notes the transition into the more mainstream acceptable New Wave. Some bands fizzle out while other musicians change their sound. John Lydon's Public Image Limited and Howard DeVoto's Magazine are used as prime examples. "Punk: Attitude" concludes with a look at how the sounds and attitude of punk rock have affected later bands like Nirvana and Sonic Youth as well as the pop punk acts like Green Day and Blink-182.

The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer is clean and what you might get from a good digital broadcast.

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. Nothing too fancy here since the film is mostly talk and music. It all comes in crystal clear.

"Punk: Attitude" was originally released on DVD by Koch Vision back in 2005, but has since gone out of print. Shout Factory has re-released it with no changes to the content.

Disc 1 contains two text based featurettes. Where Are They Now? gives brief updates on many of the film's participants. Family Tree connects the various line-ups of the major bands to each other.

Disc 2 features a substantial amount of extras that help fill in the gaps of the documentary.

L.A. Punk (21:46) is a complimentary doc directed by Dick Rude that focuses solely on the Los Angeles punk scene.

Henry Rollins Interview (9:59) is an extended discussion with Rollins as he talks about music and how the punk attitude is still persists in society.

Dave Goodman Feature (15:14) is an extended interview with Dave Goodman, a producer and musician who once served as sound engineer for the Sex Pistols.

Fanzines (10:48) focuses on what could be considered the blogs of their time. Journalists and musicians speak on how these fan published magazines got started and how they helped spread the word of mouth on local bands.

Fashion (8:55) is a discussion on the look and clothing associated with punk. Of importance was Malcolm McLaren's trendy boutique, Sex, a well-known hangout for early punk rockers.

Women in Punk (9:06) is a look at artists like Poly Styrene, Ari Up, Alice Bag, and others and how they dealt with the male-dominated scene as well as preconceptions about female musicians.

Record Companies (5:44) is a quick featurette about the big record companies and the independent labels involved with punk.

The Attitude/Spirit of Punk (8:34) focuses on the attitudes of the musicians and the themes of their lyrics.

The Influences/Origins of Punk (12:17) looks at how punk has affected modern bands as well as other art forms.

Punk on Culture and the Arts (7:16) features the participants discussing what influenced them from art, literature, music, and film.

UK Versus the US (11:09) is a look at how bands reached out to fans from both sides of the ocean.

Punk Evolution (9:26) is an extended discussion on how punk changed over the years and the other forms of music like reggae that crept into their sound.

The Gigs/Performances (9:56) contains many stories about some of the more memorable concerts that the musicians performed in.

The Punk Sound (8:03) is a discussion about the very specific tempo and sounds of punk rock.

The DVD also contains articles that can be accessed through DVD-ROM.

Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, "Punk: Attitude" could hardly be considered an in-depth look at the history and legacy of the music. It moves at a brisk pace and glances over too many important topics. While I was pleased that bands like X-Ray Spex and the Slits got their due, other acts like Bad Religion, X, the U.K. Subs, the Avengers, and the Subhumans aren't even mentioned. Oh, but here's a clip of Limp Bizkit in concert. In the end, "Punk: Attitude" is on par with standard VH-1 programming.


Film Value