DVD Reviews | Feb 21st, 2007
Starring Keith Morris, Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, HR, Dr Know, Brian Baker, Greg Ginn and lots more people
Written By: Steven Blush
Directed By: Paul Rachman
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Buy on Amazon.com link
I saw American Hardcore at a press screening at Sony in August 2006 and traveled down to NYC just to go see the movie. I don’t normally do that but since this was documentary about hardcore; I really wanted to be one of the first people to see the film. American Hardcore is a great documentary but like with all music documentaries, you wish they covered some bands more than others.
American Hardcore is about the first wave of hardcore music that spawned from punk rock, that started around the late 70’s/early 80’s. Hardcore was a lot angrier, and tougher than normal punk rock (or so it seemed). It was mainly popular in the suburbs but soon spread throughout all areas of the country. The film is based off the book of the same name, written by Steven Blush. It documents the genre from the beginning to the end of the first wave of HxC, roughly around 1986. Of course, many of the interviewers and bands think hardcore and punk died then. I’m sure many bands after that time period would say otherwise. But the film isn’t narrated by one person but all the interviews themselves is what moves the film along. The concert footage, archived interviews, and photographs also serve as a nice visual of what all the interviewers were talking about. California, Washington DC and Boston were the biggest hardcore areas in the beginning. Once everyone saw bands from that area, the rest of the country soon followed and started their own bands. The three bands that everyone looked up to and wanted to sound like were: Bad Brains, Black Flag and Minor Threat. All the young kids were angry, and pissed off at the current economy, and the Reagan administration; but they were also pissed off about their own lives as well. What better way to go to a hardcore show and either take out your aggression with slam-dancing, stage diving or even sing in one of the bands. Once the hardcore movement got too violent and out of control, that’s when things started to fizzle. All the bands either broke up, or refused to play because the shows just got out of hand with gangs and violence. The sound of hardcore and punk continues, (despite the filmmakers & some bands’ point of view), but it just wasn’t the same as the first wave of hardcore.
I love watching music documentaries because you learn a lot from them, but they are also very entertaining. Well I guess it’s interesting to me since I grew up listening to this music, though not ’til after the first wave. The Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat were in my cassette player all throughout high school, and Minor Threat made a big impact on my life because they were straight edge. I’m proud to say that I’m still straight edge after all these years but I don’t believe the band is anymore. I suppose people grow up and out of things, just not me. From watching this documentary, I never realized how violent the hardcore shows were back then. Hardcore shows were crazy with dance pits, crowd surfing, stage diving, and huge brawls but nowadays there just isn’t as much stage diving and gang violence thankfully. The pits are still nuts but there is some sort of brotherhood and unity amongst the fans. If someone falls down or lose their shoe, people pick them up. That sort of thing. I just can’t picture that’s how it was back then.
The interviews in the movie were fantastic, and hearing all the different stories from all the different bands was really fun. Sometimes interviews can be boring but not any of these! Just from listening to everybody, you can tell how much respect they had for bands like Bad Brains and Black Flag. I like Bad Brains but I never imagined how much of an impact they had on everyone. They were clearly the kings of hardcore and everyone was afraid to play with them because they were just so good. H.R.’s stage antics were crazy and the band was just really sharp live. Besides the praise of Bad Brains, people talked about what hardcore meant to them, how it effect their lives and does it still exist. A lot of them seem either bitter or in denial that it doesn’t exist now. It may not be as intense as it once was, but the hardcore scene still seems to be going strong. And i’m not talking about all that screamo and metalcore crap! Just from seeing the Gorilla Biscuits reunion show, I can tell you the scene is still going strong.
But mentioning Gorilla Biscuits does bring up my next point; the documentary clearly doesn’t go into bands that made hardcore what it is today. They should have focused on some of those bands since they were better than a lot of the first wave bands. I’m talking about bands like Warzone, Gorilla Biscuits, Youth of Today, Sick of it All, Slapshot, Murphy’s Law, Judge, Madball, The Exploited, even the Dead Kennedys! There’s barely any mention of DK, and I consider them sort of hardcore. I know they were more of a punk band but a lot of bands back then were considered hardcore. I’d even have the Misfits included among that bunch. I thought 7 Seconds and Agnostic Front would have been covered more but I guess not. They were briefly mentioned and interviewed, but you do see more of Agnostic Front in the deleted scenes. Back to my point about the bands sounded better than the first wave bands…That wasn’t the idea about hardcore in the first place, it was about taking out your aggression and thoughts and putting them to music, however it sounded. Bands would do one take and that was their demo. There was no rehearsing or practicing that much. You play a show, and that was your practice. It was just about not caring and giving a shit about the usual things people worry about it. Of course that’s my interpretation of it.
There’s certainly a good amount of extras to watch after you see the movie! There’s about 50 minutes of deleted scenes that features extended interviews with band members, and you get to see long interviews with photographers of the hardcore scene, discussing their work. There’s lots and lots to see in that and it’s almost as long as the documentary itself. There’s also some concert performances from Bad Brains, MDC, SSD, Void, Jerry’s Kids. You see some of that footage in the movie but these are the full takes from it. Other extras include a featurette on photographer Ed Colver and a Sundance film festival premiere party with DOA and the Circle Jerks. I loved watching the featurette on Ed Colver since I’m an avid concert photographer myself. It’s really inspiring to see all the great shots he got over the years. Hopefully people will look back and remember some of my photography as well. Rounding out the bonus features is audio commentary with the filmmakers Paul Rachman and Steven Blush, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it yet.
American Hardcore is an interesting documentary that is well made, and you also learn a lot from the film as well. I learned a lot because I was too young to listen to that music when it was first happening. I think the focus on the big bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, etc. was fairly balanced and the film gave a lot of spotlight to lesser known bands as well. Obviously there could have been more on certain bands but no one will ever be happy. If you like hardcore or punk music, this is a documentary you must see!
Audio Commentary with Filmmakers
Bonus Musical Performances
“In the Pit” – Photo Gallery
ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.0 CC
Widescreen 1.78:1 Color (Anamorphic)
English, Spanish, French
Favorite Scenes: I just loved watching all the interviews and archives concert footage
Running Time: 100 minutes