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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New Releases for the Week of September 27, 2013


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS 2

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Benjamin Bratt, Terry Crews, Neil Patrick Harris. Directed by Cody Cameron and Chris Pearn

Flint Lockwood returns to Swallow Falls to find that his machine which converted rain into food has begun to evolve. Now the food is alive and in short order will be breaking out and making its way to the mainland. Flint and his crew of intrepid explorers must shut down the machine for good or the world will face an apopcornlypse of epic proporridgetions.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for mild rude humor)

Baggage Claim

(Fox Searchlight) Paula Patton, Derek Luke, Taye Diggs, Boris Kodjoe.  A beautiful flight attendant is less than thrilled at the prospect of her younger sister’s wedding. Competitive to a fault, she determines that she is going to be engaged by the wedding date 30 days away and she’ll use all her connections to land Mr. Right.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and some language)

Don Jon

(Relativity) Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza. Jon has the good life Southie style; he’s got a great ride, a wicked cool pad, all the women he can handle, a family that would die for him and buddies that would kill for him. He’s also got a computer where he can watch porn night and day. Who could want anything more? Then when he meets the right girl, he discovers that there’s one part of his equation that she can’t tolerate.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and brief strong language) 

Enough Said

(Fox Searchlight) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener, Toni Collette. Dreading her daughter’s impending departure for college, a single mom develops a romance with a sweet and charming single dad likewise facing an empty nest. At the same time, a friendship with one of her clients grows and as it does, her friend constantly rags about her ex-husband to the point where it begins to affect her new romantic relationship until she discovers the truth about her friend’s ex.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual content, comic violence, language and partial nudity)

In a World

(Roadside Attractions) Lake Bell, Rob Corddry, Fred Melamed, Geena Davis. A young woman working as a vocal coach secretly yearns to follow in her father’s footstep and become the best voice-over actor in Hollywood. When a huge break comes her way unexpectedly, she runs smack into a wall of sexism, egotism, pride and dysfunction.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for language including some sexual references)

Metallica: Through the Never

(Picturehouse) Dane DeHaan, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett. As Metallica, perhaps the most respected and beloved metal band on Earth are performing one of their epic concerts, a roadie is sent on a quest to retrieve an object that the band desperately needs for their show. As he makes his way through the city, he discovers that the landscape has become a surreal reflection of the band’s music.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D (opening in Standard format October 4)

Genre: Concert Film/Fantasy

Rating: R (for some violent content and language)

Rush

(Universal) Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara. The rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s was legendary, one which is still talked about by racing fans even today. But beyond the public perception was a private story that few other than those who knew the two men ever knew – until now. Oscar-winning director Ron Howard is at the helm for this high octane drama.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Biographical Sports Drama

Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images and brief drug use)

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage


Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee.

(Banger Films) Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, Gene Simmons, Billy Corgan, Matt Stone, Trent Reznor. Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFayden

Some bands are high profile due to their outrageous personalities, some because of how many tickets, downloads and/or albums they’ve sold. Some bands, however, may make a lot of money but fly completely under the radar, a spirit of radio that survives into the digital age.

Canada’s Rush is like that. They started in the late 60s as a kind of psychedelic hard rock band, evolving into a more heavy metal incarnation in the 70s, before morphing into a progressive rock outfit in the 80s (which was, ironically enough, the height of their sales and popularity). In the 90s, they became a bit more of a hard rock band, which is where they’ve been ever since. Obviously, time stands still for some bands but not for Rush.

Even though the band has sold tens of millions of albums, sold out arenas and stadiums all over the world and are considered to be some of the finest musicians in rock and roll, they have never really gotten their due. I’m not sure why that is; it’s a subject that is often brought up, particularly by the musicians and celebrity talking heads, but there are no real answers. I don’t think there’s a ghost of a chance we’ll ever really figure it out other than to say that there are a lot of people who have crap taste in music, but that’s the music snob in me talkin’.

Part of the reason is displayed in this documentary. The three are actually very nice guys who don’t party like rock stars, who don’t do outrageous things and essentially stay out of the limelight. While never a fly by night kind of band, they’ve kept the same lineup for nearly their entire history, with only a single drummer change very early on in their career. In the very maleable world of rock and roll, that’s quite the rarity.

Drummer Neil Peart writes most of their lyrics with an eye towards science fiction, fantasy and philosophy. Watching the interviews with him and his mates, one gets a sense of how intelligent all three of them are. They haven’t squandered their fortune on ostentatious homes, toys and drugs; they haven’t got an arrest record a mile long. In that sense, they’ve managed to stay out of the camera eye. They’re basically decent family men who work in a peculiar industry, but otherwise they’re just like you or me.

Stars in both hemispheres, their music is complex, layered and yet melodic. It has influenced a diverse group of musicians, from hard rockers Kirk Hammett and Sebastian Bach (who claims he was the third member of the group’s fan club) to alt-rockers like Billy Corgan and Trent Reznor, all of whom appear here singing the praises of Rush along with filmmaker Matt Stone and actor/musician Jack Black. Influencing guys like this is launching mystic rhythms into the ether that will come back in the future in unexpected ways.

I admit to being a big fan of these guys, which makes it hard to be objective about a film like this. I enjoyed watching the concert footage, the fan love and of course the interview segments; however, it is the band’s home movies from their early years that I found most fascinating. Hearing them discuss their goals and aspirations sitting around a kitchen table at their suburban Toronto home, you get kind of a sense that they had a clear vision even back then. After all, even Tom Sawyer went to high school.

I can admire that these filmmakers give you a very detailed, intimate portrait of a band that I happen to care about, but even if I didn’t this is still a wonderful introduction to their music and their career. Whether you’re fans or not, chances are you’re going to like these guys who refer to themselves in very self-deprecating ways as boring and uninteresting. If you are fans, this will be a gold mine of rare footage and concert films of old favorites. It’s not quite going home, but it’s close. However you term it, this is a good way to get closer to the heart of an influential yet largely non-respected band.

WHY RENT THIS: An in-depth look at a band that never got the respect it truly deserves. Some really interesting home movie footage gives you a real sense of how the band evolved.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: While accessible to non-fans, certainly it won’t hold much appeal to those who aren’t into the band’s music.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there but otherwise this is perfectly fine for Rush fans of all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Neal Peart replaced John Rutsey as the drummer for the band; he also became the lyricist, allowing Geddy Lee to concentrate on the music and vocals.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition includes an extra disc with an hour and a half of live performances not seen in the film, deleted scenes and a 12-page booklet.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Adventureland