When director Susan Dynner titled her documentary, "Punk’s Not Dead," you’d expect she has fairly strong views on the absolute truth of that statement. Maybe she does, but you wouldn’t know it from watching this film.
Bands as diverse as the Subhumans and Good Charlotte are featured in an attempt to show a link between the past and present of punk. It doesn’t work. Even if one looks past the tired old questions of “Is punk dead” (It is), and “Are bands like Sum 41 really punk?” (They aren’t), this film is a mess.
First, any documentary featuring Annie Zaleski as an authority on punk (Or anything having to do with music, really), immediately loses all credibility.
Second, is there a law requiring Henry Rollins be interviewed in every new film on the subject of punk? Simply having a big mouth and a bigger ego doesn’t mean you have anything intelligent or interesting to say. He was a joke then, he’s a sad joke now.
While it was great to see footage of such bands as the Addicts and the Exploited, the film as a whole had no point. Yes, Dynner probably had a message in there somewhere about the commercialization of punk, but due to the horrendous editing, you have no clue whether she truly supports or disdains such things as the Van's Warped Tour. At times she’ll make fun of the by-the-numbers approach of current pop-punk bands, but in the next sequence she’ll allow corporate sponsorship apologists like Pennywise to ramble on in praise of Target.
Yes, there is well-deserved mockery of Hot Topic, but it’s followed by a defense. The need to provide balance so overpowers the film it becomes tedious. This isn’t an NPR piece, it’s a documentary. It could have had a point of view, a strong voice. It would have been so much more interesting had it taken a stand one way or another. Green Day is a valid punk band? Okay, go ahead and try to make that argument. Punk died with Sid Vicious? Prove it.
Sure, the truth really may be somewhere between Sid’s rotting corpse and Green Day’s rotten pop. In an effort to find that middle ground, however, Punk’s Not Dead only comes off as long and disjointed.
The whole, “Hey, if you feel like you’re a punk, then you’re a punk” philosophy ran through the portion of the film trying to justify pop-punk’s existence. While it’s true a mohawk and Crass buttons aren’t required to be a punk, this just goes too far in the other direction. By the logic espoused here, every suburban church lady who feels like an outcast in her book club is a punk at heart.
Even this isn’t Dynner’s greatest sin as a filmmaker. With Punk’s Not Dead, she accomplishes something I hadn’t thought possible; she made a documentary on punk boring. The interviews are too long and repetitive. Older punk bands had it hard. Newer bands want to be respected. We get it. Now shut the hell up and show us some concert footage.
During a question and answer period following the screening, Dynner offered a possible explanation for the schizophrenic nature of her film. In the four years it took to complete, two other similar documentaries (American Hardcore and Punk: Attitude) were released. She felt it was necessary to re-edit her film to make it stand apart from the others. It does. They’re good, hers isn’t.
As a special bonus, we were treated to some sharp, incisive questions from the Tivoli audience. “Do you like ska?” and “Why weren’t the Misfits in the movie?” were two of my favorites. Thought-provoking, indeed. One could almost hear Beavis in the back row snickering, “Heh heh heh…the Misfits kick ass!”
If bands like Story of the Year, Blink 182, and Green Day didn’t finally kill off punk, this film should finish the job.