Docs to Watch: Birth of Punk | DocHouse

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Docs to Watch: Picturing Punk

Monday 22 March, 2021

Punk pioneer Poly Styrene famously formed her band, X-ray Spex, after seeing the Sex Pistols perform at Hastings Pier Pavillion on her 19th birthday, in 1976. 

We're setting the tone for our upcoming screening of the newly released doc about Poly (co-directed and narrated by her daughter, Celeste Bell) by conjuring up the burgeoning world of Punk that she was emerging into, and ripping up.

We're including contemporary films shot by people from inside the scene as well as more recent docs revealing the immense cultural impact of these early days of Punk.

Featuring artists that inspired Poly Styrene, people she connected with and those that she influenced herself, consider this a tour through the era and a warm up for Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche (screens Wednesday 24th March from 7pm, plus live online Q&A with co-directors Paul Sng and Celeste Bell.)

TOLD with hindsight 

The Filth and the Fury / Julien Temple / 2000 / 108 mins

JOE STRUMMER: The FUTURE is Unwritten / Julien Temple / 2007 / 124 mins

The Filth and the Fury was far from Julien Temple's first film about the Sex Pistols. He started out with a short doc on the band's early rise to fame, and in 1980 he made The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, which told the story of the band's rise and fall from the point of view of their manager, Malcolm McLaren.

Twenty years on, with the benefit of two decades to reflect, The Filth and the Fury is a very different film, in some ways a revisionist retelling of the band's story, from their viewpoint. You can watch it on Amazon Prime here.

Follow it up with Temple's doc on his friend Joe Strummer, guitarist and lead singer of The Clash on Amazon Prime here.
 

 

White Riot / Rubika Shah / 2019 / 80 mins

Rubika Shah’s brilliant, award-winning film charts a vital national protest movement. Rock Against Racism (RAR) was formed in 1976, prompted by ‘music’s biggest colonialist’ Eric Clapton and his support of racist MP Enoch Powell. 

The campaign grew from Hoxton fanzine roots to 1978’s huge antifascist carnival in Victoria Park, featuring X-Ray Spex, Steel Pulse and of course The Clash, whose rock star charisma and gale-force conviction took RAR’s message to the masses.

Watch it on Modern Films or YouTube.

 

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist / Lorna Tucker / 2018 / 80 mins

Subversive, era-defining and visionary, Vivienne Westwood has been shaking up the fashion world for 40 years. Her King's Road boutique, SEX, which she ran with impressario and band manager Malcolm McLaren, defined 'the look' of early Punk. 

As independent and inspirational as ever, today aged 76 Westwood fights to maintain her ever-expanding brand’s integrity in the face of global consumerism, and dedicates her time to environmental activism, with no signs of stopping.

You can watch it on Dogwoof on Demand, Amazon Prime or iTunes

Primary Evidence - three films shot in 1977

Punk In London / Wolfgang Büld / 1977 / 93 mins

A young German director covers the great British Punk explosion of 1977. The film has been criticised for not understanding the scene well enough (as it was made by a visiting crew), but it's still a fascinating visual record of the era.

Do watch it for the footage of X-Ray Spex and their contemporaries. Don't watch it for the dubbing of recorded tracks over live performances. 

Watch it on Amazon Prime
 

The Punk Rock Movie / Don Letts / 1978 / 86 mins

In 1977, Don Letts was a DJ at the Roxy Club in London. Inspired by the bands, he picked up a Super 8 camera and shot The Punk Rock Movie - his first film.

Letts went on to be The Clash's videographer, a fascinating chronicler of the UK music scene and a key player in bringing other genres such as Reggae into Punk music. 

Track down excerpts on youtube or try the remastered DVD here
 

Brass Tacks - Punk Rock episode / BBC2 / 1977 / 49 mins

BBC2 current affairs show 'Brass Tacks' ran from 1977 to 1988. This episode, called 'Punk Rock' aired on 3rd August 1977 and focused on Manchester's punk scene, bands and iconic club, The Electric Circus.

It brilliantly captures a generational clash between the 'establishment' and the punk musicians and their fans - fuelled as ever by the media.

Look out for John Peel making a defense of Punk as a naive but valid political statement.

Meanwhile, in the USA...

For the final three films in this list of punk, we're hopping over to the States, specifically to the scene  in New York - just as Poly Styrene and X-ray Spex did with a residency at CBGB's in 1978.

End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones / Jim Fields & Michael Gramaglia / 2003 / 110 mins

In 1974, the New York City music scene was shocked into consciousness by the violently new and raw sound of a band of misfits called The Ramones.

End of the Century traces the band from its unlikely origins, through its star-crossed career, its bitter demise and the sad fates of Joey and Dee Dee. 

Watch for free on director Jim Fields' Vimeo
 

Chelsea Hotel / Nigel Finch / 1981 / 55 mins

From 1981, this BBC Arena film explores the rich history of New York's Chelsea Hotel, a legendary haven for some of the 20th Century's greatest talent, from Mark Twain to Dylan Thomas.

Look out for Andy Warhol, William Burroughs and Quentin Crisp.

Available on the iPlayer.


Blank City / Celine Danhier / 2009 / 94 mins

Get a feel for the visuals of New York in the late 1970s and early 80s with Celine Danhier's doc on the No Wave film movement. 

An underground, DIY film movement emerging from Manhattan's East Village and the Lower East Side, No Wave was raw and confrontational, drawing on the post-punk scene, led by filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch, Beth B, Lizzie Borden and Amos Poe. 

Watch it on iTunes.