My March 2010 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 322.
As the President of the Punk Rock Film Critics Association™, it is that time of the year when I release our list of best films of 2009 in order to influence Academy nominations. Elsewhere in this issue of Maximum Rock N Roll the shitworkers are listing their favorite records of 2009 so why not join in on the fun?
Here is the list of the Punk Rock Film Critics Association™ best films of 2009.
1. Cleveland's Screaming
As you will see from this year's list, I am very much in support of individual scenes documenting themselves. When it comes to punk it is way too big of a thing to condense into two or so hours. Plus the small scenes are so much more interesting to a person like me who is already acquainted with the traditional story. Cleveland's Screaming covers the Cleveland/ Akron, Ohio early '80s punk scene. The bigger Cleveland bands are gone by then so are merely mentioned as an influence. It is the lesser-known bands that get the focus. The bands don't take themselves too seriously, even in hindsight. It was fun. It was what they did. Plus "off the door" is still my favorite punk move. Too funny.
2. You Weren't There: A History Of Chicago Punk 1977-1984
Yes, I wasn't there, but the film doesn't hold that over my head. I was in Boston at the time and like all cities we had our own punk scene. Not surprisingly, I can relate to what was happening in Chicago at the same time. It is always interesting to see how it went down somewhere else. I really appreciate that it is insinuated that the DJs started the Chicago punk scene. Before there were bands, the DJs who worked at a record store started playing punk records at a dance club so everyone had a chance to hear them. The DJs seem to always get overlooked in these things. But similarly I was introduced to punk by radio DJs. Then the bands developed, the rivalries started and then the punks started getting younger, much to the dismay of the ones who were there in the beginning. It is another interesting and fun punk history. The "special edition" DVD comes with a soundtrack LP. Really cool.
3. Goner Fest 4
I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, but I think it will take ten to twenty years to truly appreciate the greatness of this DVD. I have seen almost all the bands featured here live in the last few years so spending my time watching them on TV doesn't seem that appealing right now. I can still remember what the bands are like live. But I think later on when all these bands have broken up or worse, I will be able to look back more nostalgically at 2007 with the same whimsy I now look back on 1991 or whatever. I will be so happy to have such a well made, great sounding and shot document of the time. Plus the DVD comes with a CD of the live performances too. I think 2010 will be the year I finally go to Goner Fest.
(Untitled) is a very funny look at the New York art and experimental music scenes. While it is easy to point out the absurdity and pretentiousness of both, (Untitled) also manages to balance that with an understanding of where each character is coming from. You may not understand their work, but you know they are at least sincere. Plus the ending is an excellent non-Hollywood one.
5. Love Story
I had no idea that people thought Love should have been as popular as The Doors before I saw this documentary. I am still skeptical, but the story is incredible. Through drugs and self-sabotage Love never made it. They had a huge following in Los Angeles. They were signed to a major label. They recorded a hit song "Little Red Book". Yet, the lack of touring is reputed to be why they never "made it". Of course, now many years later they are more than famous.
6. Zero Boys Live At The Pizza Castle - 1981
An amazing live performance by the Zero Boys recorded before the release of "Vicious Circle". Simply shot with one VHS camera, but restored so it looks as good as anything that would have been shot today. The band is excellent and the crowd although mostly subdued are having a great time. I saw Zero Boys for the first time this year and even though they were fantastic, I wish I had seen them at this time. Now I have, sort of.
7. Whatever Works
I have been really enjoying the non-Woody Allen Woody Allen films of the last few years. I hear other critics talking about how Larry David simply plays Woody Allen in this film. I try to imagine that and I can't. Allen would have come off as a curmudgeonly, annoying old man. I think David probably due to his TV persona is able to believably pull off the older man Boris Yellnikoff who decides to take in a teenage run away Melodie St. Ann Celestine. Sure, it's creepy, but David's character Boris resists it enough that he doesn't fall into that typical older man/ younger woman relationship that Hollywood always shoves down our throats. The awakenings of Melodie's repressed parents are the one subplot I could have done without, but otherwise a good film.
8. Chatterbox Biography of a Bar: San Francisco 1986-1990
The story of a San Francisco bar that was christened by Johnny Thunders and home for the city's hard rock bands. Although not a scene I was involved in, I can relate. I am still nostalgic for clubs that were the center of my music world at different times of my life. The film manages to capture San Francisco, as it was when I first moved here. Much rougher and dirtier than it is now.
9. Capitalism: A Love Story
I don't think anyone really wanted to hear about it so most people used the excuse that Michael Moore is annoying to ignore this film. That's fine, but I am actually interested in why we got into this mess in the first place. It is depressing and looks like there is really nothing we can do about it. Is there no turning back? When it continues to seem bad and worse, that is the time you really need Moore's brand of comic relief. I am not the type that enjoys harassing politicians and businessmen. Moore does. So let him do it. The film does have a few inspirational moments. A foreclosed on family and their neighbors stand up to the bank and take back control of the house. Workers standing up for themselves and getting their back pay. Some things can be done. People need to start doing them.
10. Whip It
I was skeptical about this film. I only went to see because I had a few hours to kill, it was playing at the local Rep Theater and I didnŐt think it would be too offensive. But the story ended up being a good one. A small town Texas teenage beauty pageant contestant discovers roller derby. She joins a team behind her parents' back (of course) and gets good at it, but eventually her two worlds collide. The themes of female bonding, family relationships and doing what you want could have all been easily dumbed down by the Hollywood machine. Amazingly, they weren't. The ending was also well done.
Great Australian Albums: The Saints (I'm) Stranded
I am not including this in the main list since it was released it 2007, but I finally saw it this year. I guess it takes a long time for these things to make it all the way from Australia. Part of a documentary series that looks at classic albums and examines how they came into being. Great Australian Albums: The Saints (I'm) Stranded focuses on the political atmosphere in Brisbane at the time, the band members background, how they met, etc. All the events leading up to the recording of "(I'm) Stranded". It features interviews with the main band members Chris Bailey and Ed Keupper, album producer Rod Koe plus a bunch of Australian musicians influenced by The Saints. The documentary also includes a bunch of incredible live footage from the time. It renewed my love for the album.
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.