Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk


The scene is a monster.

(2017) Musical Documentary (Abramorama) Billy Joe Armstrong, Iggy Pop (narrator), Jello Biafra, Laurence Livermore, Tim Armstrong, Kathleen Hanna, Brett Gurewitz, Ian Mackaye, East Bay Ray, Fat Mike, Ben Weasel, Kirk Hammett, Lars Fredricksen, Mike Dirnt, Sergei Loobkoff, Kevin Seconds, Penelope Houston, Tre Cool, Duff McKagan, Kamala Parks, Honey, Miranda July, Ginger Coyote. Directed by Corbett Redford

 

The nature of music is that every so often there comes a confluence, a mixture of talent, opportunity and inspiration that coalesces in a single location. The rise of Motown in the 60s, the British invasion, the Seattle grunge scene, the jangle pop scene in Athens, GA, the Madchester era and the Minneapolis of Prince, the Replacements and Soul Asylum are all examples of this.

There are other scenes that are evergreens; they are generally large cities that have a steady influx of talent. Los Angeles, New York City, London and San Francisco are all consistently churning out great artists and inventing (or reinventing) new sounds. Sometimes these large city scenes are like black holes, drawing in everything in a 50 mile or more radius.

The East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area has always existed on the edge of San Francisco’s orbit. While Oakland has always had a thriving rap scene, the suburbs of Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties have largely been garage band territories that have from time to time produced some fine bands.

During the 80s as the punk phenomenon was in full swing in San Francisco with bands like the Avengers, the Dead Kennedys and Flipper making important music something happened; the scene began to fade as hardcore skinhead bands began to suffuse the scene in violence. The editor of seminal punk ‘zine Maximumrocknroll Tim Yohannon wanted a venue that punk rockers of all ages could watch their favorite bands in safety – but also gave the bands the freedom to be themselves. He found such a space in Berkeley in a converted warehouse at 924 Gilman Street.

The 924 Gilman scene became a thriving punk scene that supported a wide variety of bands. The most famous bands to come out of the Gilman scene were Rancid and even bigger was Green Day whose success became a sticking point for many of those who felt that signing with a major label and making any sort of money was in effect selling out.

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong approached Corbett Redford who went to high school with him looking for archival footage from the halcyon days of Gilman for a film that Armstrong wanted to make documenting  the scene. Not only did Redford have the footage that Billie Joe was looking for, he volunteered to direct the thing as well.

The result is one of the most exhaustively thorough music documentaries I’ve ever seen. Essentially chronicling the story of San Francisco Bay Area punk from its early beginnings to the break out success of Green Day in 1994, the movie contains footage of the bands who played the Gilman regularly and interviews with literally hundreds of people associated with the scene, from the musicians who played there to the volunteers who worked there to the writers who covered the scene to the artists who grew out of the scene. The film clocks in at about 2 ½ hours so it’s not something you sit in without some sort of commitment.

The length of the movie may be daunting to some; it’s hard to sit through 155 minutes of talking heads and snippets of songs but the frenetic editing pace makes it palatable. In fact, I was left wondering if with additional footage this couldn’t have been a mini-series rather than a movie although I have to admit a movie was an easier sell to something like Netflix than a miniseries based on a specific scene. Still, one has to admire the passion of all those involved from the filmmakers to the interviewees who made this happen.

The footage is in many cases extremely rare and unavailable anywhere else. For me, there was a nostalgic appeal in seeing bands like Operation Ivy, Neurosis and Kamala and the Karnivores, bands that figured in my Bay Area rock critic days and who now existed for me only as worn-out cassette tapes and memories – until now.

Redford utilizes animation sequences masterminded by Tim Armstrong of Rancid fame that recollects the artwork of the great punk zines. The animations are some of the best and most entertaining segments in the film and are worth seeing on their own.

One can’t understate the importance of Gilman as the ultimate expression of the DIY philosophy and of taking the punk ethic to the next logical evolutionary step. Not everything that came out of Gilman was amazing and life-changing but there was always an energy that radiated from the bands that played there regularly that were not present anywhere before or since. The Gilman is still there; some of the people who have been there since the beginning are too but for the most part, it’s a new generation trying not necessarily to live up to the accomplishments of those who came before them but to blaze their own trail while holding true to the tenets that have guided the Gilman collective since the beginning.

This isn’t a movie for everybody; people who find the music discordant and irritating doubtless will not find much to like here but it isn’t just the music that is important but the society that sprang from it. Love Green Day or label them sell-outs; they were an important part of the Gilman Street Experiment (almost said Experience there) and because of their success or maybe in spite of it, they are able to wield the clout to get a movie like this made. Punk scholars will appreciate this most of all.

REASONS TO GO: The concert footage is indispensable. The animated sequences are zine-like and cool. The Gilman scene gets the due it richly deserves.
REASONS TO STAY: Too much information coming at you in a documentary that’s a good half hour too long. There is an overabundance of talking heads here.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Redford and the members of Green Day all went to Pinole Valley High School although two years apart.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/22/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Monster Project

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The Cove


The Cove

A bucolic place for a slaughter.

(Roadside Attractions) Richard O’Barry, Louis Psihoyos, Hayden Panettiere, Dan Goodman, Mandy-Rae Cruikshank, Isabel Lucas, Charles Hambleton, Simon Hutchins, Paul Watson. Directed by Louie Psihoyos

Since the advent of “Flipper,” most people generally look favorably upon dolphins. Research indicates that dolphins are highly intelligent and even self-aware. There are many reported instances of dolphins saving humans from harm in the ocean, and anybody who has seen dolphins in the wild playing and cavorting will know that these are creatures who know what joy is, perhaps better than we do.

Most civilized nations deplore the killing of dolphins and certainly the eating of them. It is in many ways similar to the taboos we have about eating dogs and cats, but there is also a medical reason for it as well – dolphin flesh is highly saturated with mercury, and repeated ingestion of dolphin can lead to mercury poisoning and eventually, death.

There are also those who love dolphins above the affection the general public gives them. Richard O’Barry is one, and he comes by that love honestly. At one time, he was considered the world’s foremost dolphin trainer. When the creators of “Flipper” were looking for someone to be their dolphin guy, Richard O’Barry was that guy. He trained five of the dolphins used in the store, including Kathy, the one among them who was his favorite.

After the show was canceled, the dolphins were sent to places like the Miami Seaquarium where they would perform in shows, captivating large audiences who thrilled at their stunts. The dolphins seemed happy enough – after all, they were always smiling.

That smile, according to O’Barry, is one of nature’s greatest deceptions. Dolphins smile because their facial structure is built that way – it is not a reflection of their emotional state, which is communicated through a body language that O’Barry eventually learned to read. What his dolphins were telling him, said Barry, was that they were stressed and desperately unhappy – to the point where Kathy committed suicide in his arms by deliberately closing her blowhole so she would stop breathing.

From that moment O’Barry would devote the rest of his life to tearing down a business he had helped to build up – the captivity of dolphins. Needless to say, he is not one of Sea World’s favorite people.

But even that has taken a back seat to his most recent focus. Japan is one of the few countries left that condones whaling; whale meat is consumed in Japan and whale by-products are used in various products. Despite a worldwide ban on whaling, Japan continues to do just that and thus television shows like “Whale Wars” depict the ongoing struggle between Japanese whalers and opposing activists from such organizations as Greenpeace and the Cetacean Society.

Even more shocking, however, is the secret in a small town called Taiji. Beautiful, quaint and charming, set into the rocky and hilly slopes leading to a beautiful shoreline, the fishermen of Taiji have every year lured thousands of dolphins into their Bay, where female bottlenose dolphins primarily are selected to be sold to Sea World and other such parks; it’s a lucrative business, with each dolphin netting upwards of $150,000 U.S. from the parks.

While that in itself isn’t a good thing, it’s what happens to the rest of the dolphins who aren’t selected for theme park use that is truly horrible. Whatever it is, it takes place in an isolated cove where the security is tighter than Fort Knox. Angry fishermen protect it with ferocity; the police and the town mayor is in on whatever it is that’s going on. As recently as this past week, O’Barry has received death threats for his activities, forcing him to cancel face-to-face meetings with the leadership in Taiji.

O’Barry knows the secret; the dolphins, instead of being released back into the wild, are slaughtered, and for no good reason. Ostensibly, it’s for their meat but because of its toxicity dolphin meat fetches next to nothing on the Japanese market, so the good citizens of Taiji mislabel it as whale meat and sell it for quite a bit more. Lies upon lies upon lies – it’s like a small child who is trying to hide their stolen cookies. It’s pretty obvious what they’re doing.

However, there’s no real proof, so O’Barry enlists Psihoyos, a National Geographic photographer and co-founder of the Oceanic Preservation Society, a non-profit group that tries to save the ocean and its inhabitants from man’s degradations. Once O’Barry shows him the security in Taiji and Psihoyos has drawn his own conclusions, they decide the world must see what’s going on behind figurative closed doors – in that secret cove, protected by razor wire and guards.

What follows is as tense and entertaining as any Mission: Impossible movie and worthy of the Best Documentary Oscar that it won earlier this year. A team of experts, including world class free divers, adrenaline junkies, technogeeks and audio experts are put together to hatch an insane plan to capture footage of the cove. They enlist some geniuses at Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas’ special effects group, to create cameras that can be disguised as rocks. Special underwater cameras and microphones are brought in.

Planting them won’t be easy. The team, particularly O’Barry, is being watched night and day by the police. When they go out to place their equipment, it is under cover of darkness and they use decoys to throw off the cops.

Although it’s a bit of a spoiler, I have to tell you that they get their footage and when it is revealed onscreen, it is absolutely horrifying. The entire cove turns red with dolphin blood. It is one of the most sickening things you will ever see, and those who are sensitive to such things should probably turn away or even leave the room when the footage begins to show.

However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t see the movie. It’s an important message and one that will shock and outrage you. The Japanese excuse their behavior as it being a part of their culture. Well, slavery was a part of our culture too and that got stamped out – at great cost, yes, but stamped out nonetheless. That’s something the good people of Japan need to impress upon their leadership and they can do it by refusing to eat whale meat, and refusing to eat anything that comes from Taiji. That’s how you change hearts and minds.

Of course, that’s for the Japanese people. If you’re interested in helping, you can either go to the movie’s website (just click on the picture above) or you can go to Richard O’Barry’s new organization at this website http://www.savejapandolphins.org/ for updates on O’Barry’s crusade.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s an important documentary that tells a shameful story; after seeing it you are certain to be up in arms over the situation. Psihoyos directs this almost as a thriller more than a documentary and it is a wildly successful gambit.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the scenes of dolphin slaughter are very disturbing and go on a bit longer after the point is already made.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some truly disturbing scenes of humans perpetrating dolphin slaughter, as well as some harrowing true-life suspense. The very sensitive little ones, particularly those who love dolphins, should be forewarned that some scenes may be too graphic for them.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This documentary inspired a new Animal Planet series called “Blood Dolphin” starring O’Barry; it made its cable debut on the network in advance of the new series.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s an informative piece on the effects of Mercury poisoning, as well as some additional details on the special cameras used in the making of the film.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Extract