Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bloodied But Unbowed

I had the opportunity to check out the DOXA premier of the Vancouver punk documentary Bloodied But Unbowed this weekend.

I was very excited and apprehensive waiting for the film to start. I knew it would never meet all my expectation, no one film could. I missed out on the punk scene when it first happened, not because I wasn't old enough, I just wasn't cool enough. I was still listening to Billy Joel when all this stuff was going on. But when I did finally catch on to it, and started collecting all the records I came to realize that the music scene that occurred in this city between 1978 and 1982 was extraordinary: Punk, pop, hardcore, avant-garde, all absolutely brilliant.

Of course I have developed my favorites over time, leaning more toward the Young Canadians, Modernettes and Dishrags over the harder edged bands like DOA and the Subhumans, but still admiring those bands tremendously.

So there I was, sitting in the audience waiting for the film to start... and waiting... let's just say that apparently there were a lot of people who needed thanking to get this project off the ground. (I won't go into the brain damaged logic that went into the idea of hurling skateboards into the audience as prizes. All I'll say is that I was in the trajectory path of one of them and only saved from injury by the man in front of me who blocked the skateboard with his forehead. On the up side, when he left to get stitches I ended up with the best view of the screen in the house).

Now to the movie. What struck me most once I finished watching it was that it felt like two documentaries in one; and two very good documentaries, by the way. One on the Boys from Burnaby in DOA and the Subhumans which provided lots of detail and anecdotes and a story arch (for DOA at least) that spanned the whole film; and the other a quick cutting, fast paced and very funny and enlightening overview of the rest of the scene.

The result was a bit of a disjointed experience. The two separate styles created some pacing problems. The level of detail on the DOA/Subhumans stuff in contrast to everything else became a bit frustrating.

That said, the archival footage of the Boys from Burnaby was fantastic. What I enjoyed most were the early interviews with Joey Shithead, his comic timing was unbelievable, or maybe it was just good editing, but I did get in a few good solid laughs. And of course the music was great (much better sound for these two bands that any of the others).

As for the rest of the film, most it was driven by personalities and great one liners as there wasn't enough time left in the film to really put the bands they were name checking into context. The segment on the Pointed Stick focused on a Dennis Hopper movie they were in, but failed to mention the fact that they were the only band in the day to be signed to an international record deal. The fallout from that deal had a big impact on the fate of the local music scene and I think it merited mention. That gripe aside, I loved Nick Jones, I've never seen an interview with him before but he had some of the best lines from the recently shot interviews. Very pleasant surprise.

There were a couple of very entertaining segments with quick cuts that encapsulated the relationship between the local punk scene and the gay community, as well as the "volatile" relationship between punk rock sweethearts Mary-Jo Kopechne and Buck Cherry. Personally, I think Buck Cherry was woefully under used in this film. I've read both of his books and this is a man who knows how to relay a story in a most entertaining fashion.

The spotlight put on Art Bergmann as an artist and a person was quick but very nice, with thoughtful observations about him from people who actually know him and have worked with him. Interestingly, they did not include any interviews with Art in the segment on him. His story was left for others to tell, as they discussed his talent and his vulnerability before the film moved on. It was an interesting and effective narrative technique. For anyone not in the know, you certainly would have left that segment wondering what ended up happening with that guy. Contemporary Art does appear late in the film to answer that question... somewhat. Personally, I would love to see a full documentary on Art Bergmann's careers. What we see in Bloodied But Unbowed does not even begin to scratch the surface, not because the segment is not well done, but it really only touched on the tip of the iceberg as far as his career goes.

Toward the end of the film things begin to become somber, as the death of the scene begins to unfold. It is a story that needs to be told. Hard drugs did come in and take there toll, and the scene did become fragmented to the point that it wasn't a scene anymore.

I was quite impressed with Zippy Pinhead late in the film when he talked about all the loss that he experienced as he watched his friends die from drug overdoses. For much of the film he plays the role (along with Brad Kent and Randy Rampage) of drunken comic relief which made his revelation at the end so much more touching.

The end of the film did have some pacing problems, I thought the Squamish Five/Direct Action section went on far too long given that it was not actually related to the music scene at all. It deserved mention in the film given that Gerry Useless was such a major player in the scene and this is where life took him, but it needed major editing.

I have said a lot about what I thought of the film, and there is a lot more I could say. In the end did I enjoy it? Absolutely! Would I watch it again? Yup, and I did. I went to the second showing. Did it live up to everything I hoped and wished it would? Nope, but it never could have and that says more about me than it does about the film.

All in all I am incredibly thankful this documentary was made and if/when it comes out on DVD I'll be the first inline to pick it up so I can watch it over and over again.

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