ToddSeavey.com Book Selection: Destroy All Movies! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film edited by Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly (with Foreword by Richard Hell)
(The photos above aren’t from the book. One is a picture I took recently of the now sadly-closed and punk-beloved Mars Bar, where I drank with an evil female punk fan just last year, though that now seems an epoch ago. The next is a kid in a tiny car listening to gypsy musicians, not punks. The third is Sophie Scholl, an activist executed by the Nazis who surely deserved to be on a Smiths album cover and should still be used on a Morrissey album cover someday, if you ask me. By the way, Madonna this month turned fifty-three, having run the culture for most of that timespan.)
•It would be very stupid not to buy this book. No hip home should be without this massive – and visually striking – encyclopedia of every movie ever to feature a punk (in the late twentieth-century subcultural sense of the word), published by the mostly-comics company Fantagraphics (for which my frequent conspirator Scott Nybakken used to work). There must be about 2,000 films in here, many featuring the apocalypse and/or CBGB’s.
I suspected before reading the book, and am now certain, that one could devote the rest of one’s life to watching movies about punks and zombies fighting in post-apocalyptic or dystopian near-futures, if one were so inclined. Of course, nearly all of those movies would be terrible, as the writers in this volume – many of them video store employees or customers from Washington state and their writer/moviegoer associates – readily admit.
•And now may be a good time to admit that I don’t expect to post the video of my June speech to the Junto about “Conservatism for Punks,” which would apparently take up a third of the memory on my computer even if the posting went smoothly tech-wise, and who knows whether it would. And though beggars cannot be choosers – and I am thus not complaining – it also appears that my volunteer punk-singer amateur videographer from last month’s “roast” at Lolita Bar hasn’t been able to cobble usable footage together.
•I remain convinced that these events actually occurred, though, and one of these days will figure out an easy way to do video and podcasts on my own without a major TV network helping me but am busy enough with words for now. And please do not e-mail to assure me how easy amateur video and audio production is these days, and how I should “just use system X and toss it on site Y,” unless you really, really want me to hate you forever. Think carefully now. One of humanity’s biggest problems is people thinking that systems it took them weeks to master should fit effortlessly and quickly into other people’s schedules, which is also part of the reason that most people can’t teach, including many teachers.
•To compensate for the lack of Junto and Roast video, a friend of mine suggests instead this very brief clip of John Podhoretz’s defense of the efficacy of domestic War on Terror measures at the recent Commentary panel discussion here. Oh, sorry – wrong clip.
While we’re this far off course, two more brief conservative comments before we get back to the punks:
•The Nation actually managed to increase my sympathy for Romney for a moment by titling an article “Romney: Dark Prince of Oligarchy.” It was a reaction to his perfectly-accurate observation that corporations are made up of people. The horrified Nation writer argues – just implicitly asserts, really – that they are not. I wonder if he thinks, say, bird-watching societies are people.
•Meanwhile, in Texas: if life were a bad old Saturday morning cartoon mystery show, the fact that Rick Perry (rather reasonably) mandated use of the Gardasil vaccine for public school children would turn out to be connected to the fact that he oversaw comparably controversial business subsidies to companies such as the biotech firm Gradalis (“Holy anagrams, Batman!” etc.). If Pam Geller were one of the mystery-solving gang, Perry, in a shocking twist, would later be outed as a closet Islam-sympathizer instead of a closet Christian-theocrat, since she complains that he dared participate in some forum with Muslims, etc., etc. I just want budget cuts and deregulation. Is that so wrong? (DISCUSS THIS OR OTHER STUFF WITH ME AND OTHER NON-LEFTISTS TONIGHT AT 7 AT THE O’LUNNEY’S BAR ON WEST 50th JUST WEST OF BROADWAY, if you like. I’m not the organizer, but I’ll be there.)
The UK singer Adele is tired of big government, by the way. Sing it, sister. (Lady Gaga probably wants some sort of communism.)
•One could write several additional books about the cultural implications of many of the entries in Destroy All Movies!, especially the numerous late-70s and early-80s documentaries about the surprisingly well-documented fledgling punk movement, so I’ll just react to a fairly random smattering, skewed toward mainstream films, here:
--I learned that proto-grunge band Mudhoney perform in the 1996 Farley/Spade film Black Sheep, about a politicians’s idiot relative becoming popular with the electorate. My friend Dave opines, “To me that means Nirvana said no, and Soundgarden and Alice in Chains said no, so the producers said, ‘These guys must be next in line to hit it big, right?’ Wrong.”
--The book suggests the worst movie of the lot isFrezno Smooth, which features a cameo by Michael Ness of Social Distortion as a bowling alley customer. It is the only film in the entire book illustrated with a picture of one of the editors smashing the VHS tape with a hammer.
--Most intriguing may be the story of Carnival Magic, a film that was nearly lost, never distributed, and apparently never even transferred to VHS or DVD until after the one existing film copy of it was found by movie theatre employees in a rusted film canister, revealing within the story of a carnival saved by a talking chimpanzee. The awful film began being shown for laughs at punk shows and slowly became legend. Director Al Adamson was later murdered and found buried beneath the tile floor near his Jacuzzi.
--The entry about the truly great Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School contains the sentence “Later, monkeys eat pizza.” They had me at monkeys, but if I were reading the sentence backwards, they would have had me at pizza. (By the way, a friend of mine, reacting to my delight over the revelation that Kermit has a mechanical butler named 80s Robot in the upcoming new Muppets movie, said the trailer had her son hooked “at ‘fart shoes’.” I do not plan to use the “had me at” joke ever again.)
--The book declares Pee-wee Herman’s levitation and disappearance into the sky on a neon surfboard after singing “Surfin’ Bird” in Back to the Beach one of the greatest moments in cinematic history. That seems right.
--The book is not only full of fun movie poster pictures and alphabetized film descriptions but dozens of interviews about film with punk legends such as Ian MacKaye, Penelope Spheeris, and Exene Cervenka (whose band X I’ll see in concert here on September 30th, by the way). They even interview the guy who played the punk in Star Trek IV who receives a Vulcan nerve pinch on the bus – and reprint the not-bad lyrics of the song he was listening to, which the actor/producer wrote.
--The volume reminds us that there was an earlier, bad Captain America movie, with the son of J.D. Salinger playing Cap and Red Skull possessing a nose and speaking with an Italian rather than German accent (maybe the accent would change if his nose were removed). The past was generally a bad time to be a film buff who liked comics.
--Ralph Bakshi has done a few things right – including collaborating with the eventual creator of Ren and Stimpy on the strange and tragically-overlooked New Adventures of Mighty Mouse – but Cool World was not one of them, and it’s nice to see it – and techno music – denounced here in an entry concluding “techno is the steaming brown icing on this cinematic shitcake.”
--My college roommate Marc will be pleased that Fat Guy Goes Nutzoid gets a non-enthusiastic mention here, with the summary headline “Fat guy goes mildly askew.”
--Fans of the Fall will have to see the arty and weird concert film Hail the New Puritan, apparently.
--The entry on the GG Allin documentary Hated makes the interesting point that he romanticized much of his behavior by talking about how threatening he was to mainstream society, when in truth mainstream society has still never heard of him and would be sad for him if it did.
--The entry on the film Hanna D, about the perils of being a drug-using homeless Italian teen, ends with the sage advice “Murder your children before it’s too late.”
--Woody Allen crops up, his character in Hannah and Her Sisters attending a punk show and worrying that the band may “take hostages” after the concert.
--The entry on Highway to Hell reminds us how quickly time passes: twenty years ago, Ben Stiller and Gilbert Gottfried were already doing ironic things like appearing as Genghis Khan and Hitler, conversing in Hell, in this movie.
--Kamikaze Hearts documents a troubled real-life romance between junkie porn stars, one of whom, Sharon Mitchell, is shown explaining her reasonable-sounding interests, according to this entry, by confessing, “Ronald Reagan is my idol. I collect snakes. I read dictionaries, comic books, and maps.” For a junkie porn star, I think she had her head screwed on right, or perhaps had Asperger’s. I will accept both answers.
--The one-line summaries atop all the entries are very useful, such as the one for Prison Planet, which says “Dirty space people punch each other.”
(NOTE: As I type this, I am listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs song “Phenomena” and being reminded once again that bad grammar is a drawback of punk-influenced music: “You’re something like a phenomena, baby/ Something like a phenomena.” Again and again they repeat it, me wishing I could somehow get them to fix the otherwise cool song. There’s artistic license, as with “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and then there’s just embarrassingly wrong.)
--A major reminder of how quickly punk turned into a film trope is 1977’s Punk Rock, for which the poster offers the summary “She was a teenage runaway, kidnapped by sex slavers...He was the private eye who had to find her...in the sinister world of hard drugs, cold blooded murder and...PUNK ROCK.”
--I was unaware that superhero Alan Arkin battled evil scientist Christopher Lee in 1983’s The Return of Captain Invincible, and this is one of countless new pieces of information gleaned from the book to which I am unsure how to respond.
--Halfway through the two-paragraph description of the film Rock and the Alien, about a balladeer named Tyler, this sentence occurs: “Tyler eventually has sex with an interstellar albino named Laser who grants him superpowers so he can battle a parasitic alien monster.” A prominent banner underscores the film’s politics by reminding us to “VOTE FOR DUKAKIS.”
--I’m surprised to see both Lost Boys and Near Dark came out in 1987. They are definitely filed in two different sections of my brain, one facing youthward and the other toward a hipper, darker future. And Michael Dukakis is seventy-eight years old.
--I see that Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam (which featured the best possible John Turturro voiceover cameo) had a cameo by members of punk band Furious George, which was led by one of my (numerous) fellow NYPress veterans, George Tabb. Speaking of ties to me, filmmaker Nick Zedd, who crops up in this book a lot, starting way back in the late 70s with films like Geek Maggot Bingo (which I wish were better known by its alternate title, The Freak from Suckweasel Mountain) and somehow enduring to the present without looking very old, videotaped a Debate at Lolita Bar once, making me feel just a bit closer to history, or at least to the Lower East Side.
The interview with Zedd in the book mentions his video project Electra Elf, a vehicle for art star Rev. Jen Miller, who I saw at Bowery Poetry Club just last week – while I was lugging this heavy book around and shortly after I took the Mars Bar photo, come to think of it. I also know a woman who was an extra in Tromeo & Juliet, which is in the book (and terrible). Now she’s in Austin. It’s all connected, in any case. (Move to New York City.) The Zedd interview mentions in passing that Tiny Tim did a horror movie called Blood Harvest, which does not have an entry in the book.
--The invaluable, astonishing concert documentary Urgh! A Music War (which amazingly isn’t on DVD but which I saw in a theatre with that same evil punk fan noted above) here warrants an entry listing every band that performed in it (back in 1980, when both punk and New Wave were considered so edgy that no one cared to distinguish between them much, and when some of those New Wave bands actually were still young and moderately dangerous). The list is indeed impressive and (just for starters) includes the Police, Wall of Voodoo, OMD, Oingo Boingo, Echo and the Bunnymen (who I saw live with the evil punk fan and narrowly failed to see with her on two subsequent occasions), the startling Klaus Nomi, the Go-Go’s, the Dead Kennedys, a stone-faced and tiny-car-driving Gary Numan, X, Cramps, Devo, Gang of Four, and many more.
This is better than Pee-wee on a levitating surfboard and may be the greatest artifact examined in the whole book.
•The book also notes that 2011 marks the thirtieth anniversary of what was arguably the greatest year in cinematic-wolf history, bringing us American Werewolf in London, Blue Brothers 2, Wolfen, and The Howling – not to mention New Wave and puberty. (Speaking of werewolves, for what it’s worth, another Underworld movie comes out in January, but despite the return of Kate Beckinsale, I’m done with this franchise. My list of mandatory nerd movies for next year is already fourteen films long, but more about that another time.)
IN NON-ENCYCLOPEDIA NEWS (this may prove to be my longest-ever blog entry, which is what happens if I don’t blog for five days, but it’s all good stuff):
•Speaking of werewolves, another acquaintance of mine, Allison Moon, has a novel about lesbian werewolves coming out next month called Lunatic Fringe, if you’re looking to buy some film rights.
•It is a crime – a crime, I say – that the Daily News did not take the time to mimic the graphics from the end of the film, but here’s a cast where-are-they-now for Animal House.
•I am lately developing the dangerous idea that Aqua Teen Hunger Force – or Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, as it is now known – may be the greatest show in TV history, and I don’t even smoke pot. Metalocalypse is fairly impressive once or twice. Disappointingly, The Venture Brothers, despite being targeted directly at Tom Swift and Jonny Quest fans like me, does not tickle me. Fast non-sequitur dialogue is not enough. Master Shake and Carl, by contrast, are monumental archetypes of unwarranted confidence and manliness, respectively, as important in their ways as Falstaff or Hercules.
I saw the actors live on stage last year, and they were joined by a genuinely frightening six-foot clown named Puddles dressed in stark black and white who sang very impressive operatic versions of songs like “Enter Sandman” and “My Heart Will Go On” accompanied by a body-building girl in a monkey mask.
•Why does Elvis Costello sing “P.P.S.” at the end of “The Loved Ones” without having sung an earlier “P.S.”?
•If you combine Royal Tenanbaums with Warriors, you sort of get...the video for “O Valencia” by the Decemberists (and maybe you also get Kill Bill):
•I think one of the most amusingly goth things of all time may be that Nine Inch Nails...with guest vocalist Peter Murphy...covered the Joy Division song “Dead Souls”...that had been used in The Crow. Any darker and that performance would have had an event horizon.
NIN and Murphy also covered “Warm Leatherette” together, which makes so much sense that you can probably imagine exactly what it sounds like.
And here’s sci-fi-loving, Asperger’s-suffering, libertarian, New Wave Gary Numan doing “Cars” with NIN. 80s, 90s, whatever – it’s all ancient history now anyway.
•Ali Kokmen drily notes that steampunk is what happened when goths discovered the color brown. (Next week, I will in fact review an encyclopedia of steampunk, The Steampunk Bible.)
•A comparably witty friend of a friend observes that “planking” is parkour for lazy people. If you don’t know what either half of that analogy means, it’s just as well.
•The art website Coilhouse pleases me by describing themselves as documenters of our society’s continually-generated short-lived subcultures – a broader mandate than, say, espousing “Conservatism for Punks,” and one I should keep in mind while recruiting diverse new participants for my new bar events in Williamsburg this fall. I noticed Coilhouse was also about the only site to react to my argument on C-SPAN2 last year by calling it sexy, which makes perfect sense from their perspective, in a way. They are cordially invited to Williamsburg. More on that soon.
•I actually found myself in a Facebook debate about whether the law should punish people for things like goat-spanking, to which my reply is that it would be reasonable to limit it as animal cruelty but not simply to police perversion. Some ostensibly-conservative lady chimed in that we libertarians are nihilists who would legalize cannibalism if the deceased had volunteered his corpse in advance, so I told her to stop regulating our food. Creeping socialism is everywhere.
•The Film Bulletin, the comedy publication I wrote for in college, once had a list of different forms the apocalypse might take, and two I recall (which followed after some others that had more extensive definitions) were simply:
Apolkalypse: Roll out the barrel, we'll have a barrel – of death!
Apocalypso: Doom-o, me say dooom-o.
•I saw a woman on the subway with just two tattoos, somewhat large yet two of the most clean-lined, simple, tidy, nice-looking tattoos I’ve ever seen: on one side and slightly to the back of the neck, a nice clear drawing of the two traditional happy and sad theatre masks, and on the inside of her left forearm a fairly large black heart outline with the bright red cursive (highly legible and clear) words The Fire Inside.
And she was wearing an appropriately emphatic but minimalist white shirt with a small red Rancid logo on it (in spirit not so unlike the Rancid recording studio, which last I knew had sparse white walls except for one small framed picture of the Clash). I still don’t really like tattoos, though. (Someone once said, though, “I like a tattoo on a woman. It shows she’s not afraid to make a decision she’ll regret in the morning.”)
•Here's an odd stat that suggests a horror movie may have been occurring in real life in 2006:
There were only nine fatal [alligator] attacks in the U.S. throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but alligators killed 12 people from 2001 to 2007. In May 2006, alligators killed three Floridians in four days, two of them in the same day.
•Tom Walls noted these amazing pics of Iggy Pop performing at a high school in 1970.
•Dimitri Cavalli notes WKRP’s distinction between punk rock and hoodlum rock.
•James Poulos notes he isn’t just a conservative pundit, he’s in the band Black Hi-Liter, and they’re actually good.
•Lou Reed, very early on, doing “The Ostrich.” (For comparison, Bert doing “The Coo-Coo Pigeon,” which I rather liked when I was four.) And here’s Lou Reed’s first 45, “Your Love,” notes Kevin Walsh. And 1959’s (!) “Merry Go Round.” (Even more controversial for its time was the B-side, “Cross-Dressing on Smack at the Sock Hop.” No, I made that one up.)
•Sebastian Bach sings “Godzilla” to Tokyo (by the way, it was of course the Godzilla movie Destroy All Monsters! that inspired the title of today’s Book Selection).
•Finally: it occurs to me that I was once condemned for revealing that (at the time) I wore briefs instead of boxers – only to have the mighty wheel of undie-cred fate turn and later make briefs once more hipper than boxers (now I don’t think people care). I was also condemned back in the day for unpleated slacks – whereas now I have seen an article condemning someone as hopelessly unhip for wearing pleated slacks.
But all is change and things once permanent in time melt into air, even in my pants.