Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Rise and Fall of the Clash + My Career as a Jerk

On back to back nights I recently watched two documentaries about punk rock bands--one from London and one from Los Angeles. While both were worth watching for fans of the bands or the style of music, both were kind of raw, low-budget and catered for the fans and will likely not be of interest outside of people who love documentaries about the many styles of rock music that exists. That's me. I will watch any documentary related to music, especially rock related material. I'm not particularly into hardcore punk rock, but I still find it interesting. Here's a couple of short reviews of docs about The Clash and Circle Jerks.

The Rise and Fall of the Clash. Between the two films, this was the more polished as it concentrates mostly on the "fall" of the iconic English band The Clash. There's a little bit about their rise to fame, but this is mostly about the in-band issues that fractured them and led to a series of highly embarrassing public debacles by what was left of the group when the album "Cut the Crap" came out in 1985. This album's reputation is summed up by one of the words in the title, you can guess which one. By that point in time, there was no Mick Jones as he'd been sacked by Joe Strummer and svengali manager Bernie Rhodes. Not a wise decision as Jones seems to be the only person with any taste in the group. Between the two leaders of the band and how they are portrayed in the film: Jones comes off very good in this, Strummer does not. Unfortunately, Strummer's no longer around to defend his actions but he comes off like a puppet doing whatever Rhodes tells him to do, while also making some disastrous creative decisions. The documentary actually has a sneaky sense of humor as the people who had been hired to replace Jones and drummer Topper Headon were outlandish or provided great soundbites [Nick Sheppard was at the screening and helped deliver a nice post-screening Q and A]. These people realized they were hired guns [at 150 pounds a week while Strummer and Rhodes became millionaires] and 25+ years later get to come clean about their brief roles in the group.

Circle Jerks: My Career as a Jerk. The best thing about the low-budget story of the Los Angeles hardcore band Circle Jerks is the treasure trove of footage of live shows of the band at various locations across the city. The concert footage documents a time, place and musical movement more than any of the band members can. And with Circle Jerks, there have been a lot of band members through the years! There's been singer Keith Morris [Black Flag's first singer] and guitarist Greg Hetson [who has also been in Bad Religion since the mid-80s] but other than that has been a rotating group of drummers and bassists since the band first started causing a ruckus in 1979. The film takes a straight ahead approach documenting every single line-up change that included folks such as Lucky Lehrer, Earl Liberty, Chuck Biscuits, Flea and Zander Schloss over the years. Even more so than The Clash doc, My Career as a Jerk is directed for the fans, as it comes off kind of repetitive and is full of long live performances that are raw, angry and blistering. Say what you want about Circle Jerks, some of their early gigs are intense and raging testosterone and the often times grainy, VHS-esque quality of the footage perfectly captures the era. One piece of advice I have for singer Morris and his crazy long dreadlocks: cut them off! You are too old and much too white to have hair like that.

A side element to this screening was the foul behavior of two older audience members with shaved heads who seemed to be channeling their obnoxious early 1980s teenage personalities by loudly talking, yelling "Oi" over and over, hollering song lyrics and making comments to the people talking in the film as if they were in the room with them and not a crowded theatre. Finally, after about 20 minutes of this and a couple of warnings, they were asked to exit the theatre and they left to the same amount of noise they'd provided the entire screening. As they were led out, the majority of the theatre applauded.

Here's a clip of Circle Jerks doing "Wild in the Streets" at a club in Los Angeles in the early 1980s to give you a sense of the kind of punk rock music they played in their early days.

***If you are reading this post via e-mail, the imbedded videos in this post might not work with your particular e-mail account. Click on the post title and you will be taken directly to CineRobot to view these wonderfully curated clips.***

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