October 16, 2006

Film Review: "American Hardcore"

American HardcoreWe made it out Saturday night to see "American Hardcore," the documentary film spawned by a book of the same name that examines the extreme North American underground music scene between the years 1980 and 1986. As we've been anticipating the release of the movie here in these electronic pages for most of the year it seems appropriate to follow through and actually tell you what we thought of the movie.

On the whole we were pleased -- we had set realistic expectations. While "American Hardcore" is far from perfect, it succeeds in offering a compelling overview of something that most people don't even know exists. While the book's author is not the most eloquent, the film suffers a bit from lack of the narrative that strung the book's component parts together. The film has none of the interstitial narrative linking the events, locales and people the book considers; as such it lives and dies on the personalities of those interviewed.

Fortunately, for the most part the subjects are intensely amusing and often informative. Even so, as funny as Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks is, they use too much of him at the beginning of the movie. The corresponding clips with Vic Bondi, formerly of Chicago's Articles Of Faith, were equally as impassioned and spot-on and we would have liked to have seen a bit more of him. Incidentally, Bondi recently resumed the hardcore mantle, putting together Report Suspicious Activity with producer extraordinaire and Jawbox/Burning Airlines/Channels principal J. Robbins. We highly recommend RSA's track "Subtle" [MP3 -- right click and save as] which is posted at the band's MySpace casa here.

Due to the typical moviegoer's attention span, the film must distill entire geographic scenes and careers into minutes, but we were pleased that the import bestowed upon hardcore visionaries Bad Brains was conveyed nearly as strongly in the film as it is in the book. Another pleasant surprise are the lucid interviews with legendary Bad Brains fronter H.R.; we posted a link to an interview in one of the earliest iterations of :: clicky clicky :: years ago that made it seem like H.R.'s head had almost permanently checked out. Speaking of H.R., it was fascinating to see guys like Minor Threat's Bryan Baker and Black Flag's Greg Ginn as middle-aged men. They all look like science teachers. Well, except H.R.

The hardcore scenes outside LA, DC, Boston and New York receive only token attention in the film version of "American Hardcore," which is too bad. While it was nice to see Boston get so many props, some of the more interesting stories in the book occurred in "secondary markets," Texas in particular. That said, the film even truncates the careers of its main story vehicles, glossing over the various facets of the careers of such touchstone bands as the aforementioned Minor Threat and Black Flag, and comes to a fairly abrupt ending. Here's hoping the DVD has tons of extras -- we'll definitely be buying it.

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