DVD Reviews

American Hardcore

(Sony Classics)

So, I finally got to see the anticipated partner piece to Steven Blush’s book “American Hardcore: A Tribal History” from 2001, where the author put into words his own historic take and first hand experiences from those crucial days of North American Hardcore in the early ’80’s. Blush is joined in production duties on “American Hardcore” (The Movie) by Paul Rachman, and you did read that right… this is a Sony Pictures Classic…

As with the book, the film focuses on the different emerging scenes across the States and alongside a heap of band footage and essential sounds, there are war stories and often humorous anecdotes from back-in-the-day with a whole host of luminaries who were crucial to the burgeoning scene… Ian MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Keith Morris, Brian Baker, Mike Watt, Vic Bondi, Tony Cadena, Dave Dictor, Joey Shithead, Greg Ginn, Paul Mahern, Ken Inouye, Jack Grisham, Greg Hetson, Brett Gurewitz, Kevin Seconds, Harley Flanagan, Vinny Stigma, Shaun and Mark Stern, Jimmy Gestapo, Dave Smalley… and a very coherent HR from Bad Brains, plus his former band mates Dr Know and Darryl Jenifer… the live footage of the Bad Brains is one of this films real high points. What an amazing band.

There’s also recollections from the SSD guys, who are then reunited in the same room for the first time in years, which looks a bit tense but then Springa cracks out a whole load of old flyers and the ice is broken. Just don’t hope for a reunion though!!! Black Flag’s best known roadie Mugger makes an appearance and reveals how he cashed in his SST label shares and that helped put him through college, and set him up in business, and a very comfortable lifestyle these days by all accounts.

I had to do a double take when George Anthony from Battalion of Saints appeared on screen… he sure looks healthier than when his band played Brighton a few years ago. He was so wasted we thought they were gonna suck. We were wrong, and they ripped our heads off. Anyways, back to the film – and I could have definitely done without the super-stoner from Pantera telling me how intense Black Flag were, and I’m still not 100% clear if Moby did ever sing with Flipper, or not.

If I’ve got a problem with ‘American Hardcore’ it’s that for all the cool bands and music in it, I was constantly left thinking about all the shit that was missing… no Husker Du, no Crucifix, no Toxic Reasons, no JFA, MIA, FU’s… Freeze… Naked Raygun… and crucially – no Dead Kennedy’s. I shit you not. The DK’s were THE American Hardcore band… and one of the most important Punk acts ever. They took it national, and then global. Go read the interview on this website with Vic Bondi for more on why the DK’s were a non-starter as far as this film went.

There’s scant coverage on the vibrant and eclectic scene in Texas, and Canada’s only inclusion is DOA… no Subhumans, no SNFU, no Personality Crisis. It was a bit disparate at times when there are comments from interviewees (notably Kevin Seconds, Brett Gurewitz, Kim from Channel 3, Reed from COC) but no footage of their bands. I’m being picky here I guess. Importantly though, there was also no mention of the crucial publications that were the heartbeat of the scene, notably Maximum RocknRoll, but also Flipside, and Al Quint from Suburban Voice ‘zine would surely have made a decent contributor. And keeping on that track – some more of the artists who made their mark on the scene, like Pushead and Brain Walsby would have been interesting to hear from.

I’m in too deep with this music and its history, but overall “American Hardcore” is a decent representative film that is requisite viewing for anyone with more than a passing interest this firebrand music, much of which still burns hard on stereos across the world today. Go see it, soak up the classic sounds, and form your own opinion. That was the point in the first place… right!! for the trailer

Pete Craven