Punk

(The History of Rock 'n' Roll)

A fascinating glimpse into the punk scene of the l970s is offered in Punk, a one-hour documentary that encompasses the heyday of punk bands and the lifestyle and fashion they created in both Britain and the U.S. Short running time will curtail theatrical possibilities unless pic is coupled with another musical docu in the same program. However, unique interviews with–and singing by–Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer and others should make it an invaluable source for viewers interested in punk's attempts to reclaim rock' nr' roll and the music genres that followed it.

Related with sobering insight and perspective, Punk is not only a chronicle of a very particular type of music, but about the socio-political context in which it evolved, flourished and declined. It was a time when young rebellious musicians not only expressed directly and authentically what they felt, but also deeply felt what they had to say about music, politics and society.

In the l970s, when Rock N' Roll went corporate and became big business, young musicians in England couldn't stand the status quo anymore. As “Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten says, “I had to write my own future.” Reacting to England's social problems–severe unemployment, sharp class polarization, dreary house projects and above all hopelessness and depression–punk music was a countercultural expression par excellence, epitomized by such songs as “I wanna be an anarchist.”

At the same time across the Atlantic, influential figure Iggy Pop says: “I hated school, hated being confined in official clothes, hated the guys in the fraternity in the college town where I lived. Hated the whole American Dream.”

It was a unique moment in music history, when bands such as The New York Dolls, Velvet Underground, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Slash and others didn't want lucrative recording deals. Instead, what they wanted was to tell the Establishment how badly it had let them down. Their new home was CBGG, a grungy N.Y. club in the Bowery, a low-rent district, which functioned as much more than a club.

Among docu's many highlights is a discussion of the Sex Pistols' controversial “God Save the Queen,” which emerged during Queen Elizabeth's l977 Silver Jubilee but was initially banned, and a rendition of the landmark “Gloria” by Patti Smith, with good insights about the latter's poetry and trance-like performance style.

Punk draws some interesting comparisons between the music scene in the U.K. and U.S., but exploration should have been more elaborate as punk had a decidedly different meaning in the two countries. Unlike most docus, here is a film that could have been longer.