Punk’s Not Dead (Vision Films, Not Rated)

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Susan Dynner’s Punk’s Not Dead offers an intimate look at the experiences of both well-known and smaller punk bands from across the globe. Viewers with little genre knowledge might be lost within the frenetic pace of interviews and clips. Backed by some classic scorchers, Dynner’s film works best for insiders who recognize many of the key faces and grew up with these acts.

Punk rock has received plenty of attention in documentaries lately, particularly in fine overviews like Don Letts’ Punk: Attitude, which offered an energetic perspective of the genre. We’ve seen historical retrospectives of such legendary acts as The Clash and The Ramones, but haven’t really delved into the contradictions within this culture. Bands strive to reach an audience and build their fan base, but could be shunned if they cross the line towards mainstream success. In today’s corporate-driven music world, it becomes even more difficult to identify the praiseworthy souls that deserve our attention.

Susan Dynner’s Punk’s Not Dead offers an intimate look at the experiences of both well-known and smaller punk bands from across the globe. Viewers with little genre knowledge might be lost within the frenetic pace of interviews and clips. Backed by some classic scorchers, Dynner’s film works best for insiders who recognize many of the key faces and grew up with these acts. However, experts should still discover new details within the personal stories of lesser-known punk groups like the Adicts and Subhumans. Both long-time bands have devoted followings but earn only a pittance compared to gigantic acts like Good Charlotte and Sum 41. During a compelling segment, the younger groups get to chance to respond to critics and explain why their music is legitimate. I’m not a big fan of either act, particularly Good Charlotte, but it’s hard not to at least respect their ability to attract young listeners. I’d still rather listen to either band than the mushy pop that’s dominating the commercial airwaves today. Dynner might side with the stalwart older groups, but she doesn’t mock the hot new bands and gives them significant time. We do see ridiculous pop-culture appearances from punk on shows like The O.C. and Gilmore Girls that are both silly and strange. The music and culture are present everywhere in the mainstream world, which can seriously dilute the message.

This documentary includes an impressive range of participants who cover nearly every area of punk music. Such legendary artists as Ian Mackaye, Jello Biafra and Mike Ness offer candid takes on their experiences and the genre’s current state. Henry Rollins is his usual outspoken self while describing the difficulties in the early days with Black Flag. After depicting punk’s surge during the early ‘90s, Dynner shifts to the time when bands had to be creative to draw audiences. A true underground network existed to book shows and sell records, and their persistent efforts led to the eventual rise in popularity. We hear insightful comments from members of the UK Subs, Bad Religion, the Circle Jerks and many more acts that toiled away during this time. Dynner succeeds in showing their struggles and how they relate to the eventual success of the next wave of groups. She also doesn’t dismiss that later segment and just label them as wannabes. Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and the Offspring’s Dexter Holland receive considerable time to describe their experiences as surprise hit-makers. Holland is especially candid in discussing the difficulties in maintaining credibility while gaining huge radio airplay.

Punk’s Not Dead has a few slow points, but it generally maintains an energetic pace throughout the brief running time. Clocking in just past 90 minutes, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome and presents inspiring material without going over the top. The conclusion includes quick shots of punk bands all across the world performing and maintaining their local scenes. The close-knit community aspects of punk are difficult to explain, but Dynner effectively presents the music’s ability to bring people together. The silly in-fighting about who’s a true "punk" can make everyone look silly, but the music still works. In a rambling statement, Rancid’s Tim Armstrong dismisses anyone who would claim he’s not a punk. His words are a bit confusing, but the message is clear. If your heart is in the right place, the surface material doesn’t really matter. This compelling documentary embodies that statement and deserves your attention. | Dan Heaton

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