Tuesday, March 08, 2011

THE SLOG MOVIE (We Got Power Films)
This film is an excellent capsule to a time and place I was not a part of, its essence and its core being suburban Southern California in the early '80s. More specifically it's about the hardcore punk scene of that period, though being directed by a young suburbanite punker of the time - Mr. Dave Markey - rather than an older sophisticate not necessarily living the life, it's a street-level portrayal of trash/pop-culture-drenched, bored middle-class youth which in some ways is more effective than Penelope Spheeris' The Decline Of Western Civilisation (though it's most certainly not a better film) or Alex Cox's Repo Man (two very different films, so I won't compare them).

The Slog Movie sees a young, 17/18-year-old Dave Markey documenting the music scene around him ca. 1981/'82. You've probably heard of him before. He's made a name for himself via cult films Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar (both faves of mine for many, many years), Reality 86'd (his documentary of Black Flag's last ever tour in 1986, one which has never seen the light of day due to lawsuits c/o Greg Ginn), video clips by the likes of Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Meat Puppets, Mudhoney, et al, his most famous documentary, 1991:The Year Punk Broke, as well as his two bands from the '80s, Sin 34 (generic but fun suburban punk quartet) and Painted Willie, a Ginn-damaged post-HC outfit who signed to SST at the time, played an OK take on stoner/hippie-punk and were hated by just about everybody (except me).

The film is Markey, his camera (not video, I'm assuming by its quality), the HC bands of LA and his buddies, notably Jordan Schwartz (later an SST employee and general dude-about-town) and Merrill Ward (you may remember him from his stint in the too-bad-to-believe, SWA). There's no story, no particular narrative line of what is being documented other than some live gigs by bands he obviously likes, but it still provides a fascinating fly-on-the-wall look at what being a white, suburban punk (thanks, Emilio) was like at the dawn of the '80s in LA. There's no harrassment from the cops, no one getting their ass beaten. That may well have happened (it certainly did for some), but this is really all about kids lazing around their parents' house, blasting out records from their speaker in their flyer-covered bedroom, microwaving food, practicing their minimal chops in the garage, hanging out at Okie Dogs (the after-hours food joint for punkers at the time. Hell, you might even catch a glimpse of Pat Smear there! [you do]), and even name-dropping another icon of early-'80s LA culture: E.T. It's like Fast Times At Ridgemont High meets Decline of Western Civilisation, except the music is better than the former.

Musically, you get footage of the Circle Jerks, Circle One, Fear, Chiefs, Sin 34, Wasted Youth, Black Flag, TSOL, Symbol 6 and Red Cross. Take yer pick as to what you think is what's hot and what's not. The generic stuff (Sin 34, Circle One, Chiefs, Wasted Youth) is still fairly embryonic, fresh & fun to watch; the Circle Jerks and Fear clips are fantastic (and I don't even like the latter band); TSOL are almost tolerable; the Black Flag clip is from just after Henry joining the band, though due to legal hassles (once again from you-know-who), it's billed on the DVD cover as "Henry Rollins, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena and Robo", and there's no audio to the clip, just commentary from Keith Morris, Jordan Schwartz, Dave Markey and Mike Watt, but despite this the brief clip is explosive stuff; and the musical highlight is Red Cross (apparently still using that spelling at the time) playing on Santa Monica Pier in '82 (see that clip above) when they were at the peak of their powers (though actually I like their Neurotica LP from 1987 the most) and pumping out a unique, trashed-out, suburban-LA-teen garage-punk take on the New York Dolls. Or something like that. Their music requires a deep analysis, but you won't get that here right now.

This period when suburban hardcore punk was fresh lasted but a year or two - '81/'82, to be specific - and it's a great thing that someone like Markey got it down on celluloid at the time. The Slog Movie is only 50-odd minutes long, is captured on scratchy film on a shakey camera, features choppy editing and occasionally terrible sound - and let's face it, over half of the bands featured really aren't worth listening to in 2011 - but none of that matters. It's the little things in this movie which make it worthwhile, the small moments which capture the scene. When young punker Jordan Schwartz is bitching about not being able to buy beer at a convenience store, getting hassled by its staff, there's a great moment when he utters in pimply-faced frustration, "Punk rockers are the niggers of the world, man!"

You can actually watch the whole film here. I assume Markey doesn't disapprove of its presence on Youtube, or he would've asked for it to be taken down, so go for your life.


Nazz Nomad said...

aah those crazy punk rock kids- rd cross was indeed still using their old moniker. bless their little punk rock hearts.

joe stumble said...

I for one, would love to hear a Lexicon Devil comparison of Repo Man and Decline!

Pig State Recon said...

The hilarious DVD commentary alone is worth the price of admission - tho I did love seeing THE CHEIFS live clip.