As much as I love movies, there is a danger in the assumption that films, especially fictional narratives, represent an accurate mirror to our ever-changing cultural landscape. More to the point, subcultures in particular are most at risk for celluloid misrepresentation. There is also, typically, an inverse proportion that exists between a film’s budget constraints/artistic merit to the accuracy of depiction of a fringe societal stratum. All this film school rhetoric aside, these whitewashed, off-kilter, or wholly incorrect caricatures can make for a riotously funny cinematic experience. Between 1977 and 1999, the most painfully misrepresented counterculture in film was that of the punk movement.
This leads me to the subjects of this week’s entry: a recently released film reference book entitled Destroy All Movies: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film. This book, which should be adorning your coffee tables in short order, catalogues a sea of badly drawn punkers in film as well as the few instances wherein Hollywood managed a semi-reasonable portrayal of those beholden to this fiercely individualistic lifestyle. It also canonizes Hollywood’s tumultuous, and often unsympathetic, relationship with punk culture; often villainizing that which it did not understand. Though I would not count myself an avid reader of any sort, the few texts I do tend to digest with regularity are the film reference guides and this is assuredly one of the absolute best. Let me begin with a quick introduction to the book’s authors.
Zack Carlson is a programmer for the beloved Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin, TX and hosts the weekly repertory film series, 'Terror Tuesday'. Brian Connolly works at the indescribably comprehensive and movie geek salivation-inducing Vulcan Video here in Austin and is about as knowledgeable about film as any encyclopedia with whom you could ever hope to chat. These two devoted years of their lives to scouring mom-and-pop video chains, VHS warehouses and dumpsters, as well as sometimes being forced to stoop so low as to use the Cracker Jack box of information known as the internet to compile a list of every single film to feature either a central punk character or even the slightest glimpse of a supposed punk cameo or punker extra wandering the unsung backgrounds. As if that weren’t enough, Destroy All Movies also features fascinating interviews with filmmakers, musicians, and other seminal figures in the world of punk cinema.
The result of this gargantuan undertaking is a book that reads as equal parts encyclopedia, joke book, and love letter to a sorely misunderstood cultural movement. It isn’t often that a reference book succeeds at being as entertaining as it is informative, but Destroy All Movies juggles both with masterful ease. The lengths they’ve gone to in order to identify any and all reference to punks or punk rock culture in film is staggering and makes the book the end-all-be-all of its esoteric subject matter. Even if you feel at arms length with the source material, I can assure you there is no shortage of insight and laughter to be gleaned from this glorious time capsule of sociological film knowledge. I myself worried that my lack of comprehension of the punk culture would leave me cold to the book’s intentions. But the electric enthusiasm and comedic genius of the writers pairs nicely with the fact that it will be impossible for even the most novice reader to fail to recognize at least a dozen films from their own collection featured somewhere in the proceedings.
Having gotten to know Zack pretty well over the last year, and from the few conversations I have had with Brian, I cannot attest more avidly to their infectious adoration of the subject and the compelling richness of their personal anecdotes. There are stories directly related to some of the films featured that would have floundered upon tertiary speculation and dull, flat fact resuscitation were this book written by anyone else. The one that leaps immediately to mind is of their sacking an abruptly closed movie house in an effort to save the sequestered pieces of film history locked unjustly inside from a watery refuse. They managed to uncover a lost film from a noted exploitation director so rare that its very existence was the stuff of myth and debate. It isn’t often that any reference book features discovery and heroic devotion to the film art form such as this, let alone one so unassuming and unstoppably fun as Destroy All Movies.
If you like punk rock, punk culture, or films that feature either one to varying degrees of legitimacy, do yourself a favor and buy Destroy All Movies: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film. Look for the fantastic collage of classic movie posters and stills plastering the front and back of the book like beautiful graffiti.