AMERICAN HARDCORE: THE HISTORY OF PUNK ROCK 1980 - 1986 directed by Paul Rachman; Sony Pictures Classics, 2006
At some point in his life, I'm guessing, Henry Rollins took a toastmaster class. He learned how to tell a story, gesticulate expressively, enunciate with a drill instructor's aggression, and then yap on and on about his sausage-headed self. I walked out of the documentary American Hardcore wishing that he could just shut the fuck up.
Rollins is the weakest point of the film, and there was no need to use so much of him, as they did a fairly good job interviewing 90+ participants. Everyone is older, some bitter, some confused. Many remember the 80s as a magic, maniacal time. Perhaps it's disheartening to see nostalgia for this movement; hardcore was never meant to be sentimental. What's perhaps even more saddening is the lack of any youth culture since that time, which compares to that spirit.
A film like this is tough—at least for those of us who were there, it's never going to be enough; for those who weren't, who fucking cares? While there was so much of the hardcore scene that I knew, absent from the documentary, there are many moments that confirmed my experiences with a zeitgeist like zeal.
When the doc tries to make overall sweeping statements about the scene—politics, Straight Edge, violence, etc—it veers into a sketchy and muddled editorial. These are aspects that are not shared by all. No one can define the exact manifesto of the early 80s hardcore kid. For some, alcohol, dope, and fighting made shows more exciting, for others it was a turn off. Sure, most of us hated and ridiculed Reagan, but that doesn't mean every band had a left-wing bent, plotting the overthrow of the country.
The aspects this film got right were the sense of exploration and adventure, the “fuck you, and I don't care” attitude, and the DIY process. These are all front and center in the testimonials. There is a great sense of what this was and felt like on the surface. Yet, for all the efforts the filmmakers made to make this a complete document of this American movement, there's a painful awareness about who isn't interviewed, and what music, and live footage is absent. I also didn't see enough irreverence, and general goofiness. A Jackass mentality, I found in my local hardcore scene, which made hanging out irresistible.
So, it may be impossible to make a document on this subject that will satisfy everyone/anyone. I'm glad the movie was made, and I'm glad I saw it. And while I wished it would have covered different aspects of that scene, I don't think another documentary on hardcore is really necessary. Admittedly, I did have an eerie feeling, sitting in the dark of the theater, having my post-adolescence wash over me. I couldn't change it, I couldn't even remember it fully, but for two hours I was stuck in it.
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