SLAMDANCE: Documentary Feature
Title: Punk The Capital (2019) Director: Paul Bishow // James June Schneider Studio: PTC International // Sphairos Productions IMDb Plot: Featuring bands such as Bad Brains, Punk music creates a movement that redefined a genre and became a model for social and political engagement. Joe Says: Punk Rock is an enduring genre and Washington DC (of all places!) was explosive in the scene. Punk the Capital shows lots of love to this history and to the musical style but spends too much time retelling the slow tales of "I remember when..."
Punk Rock, as an enduring genre, is unique enough – strong enough – that disparate groups can claim it as their own. Punk’s true kingdoms might be New York (where it was mythically originated by the likes of the Ramones and New York Dolls) and London (home to the Sex Pistols and the Damned) yet smaller fiefdoms with their own autonomy exist and thrive and even rebel. They grow with their own legends and history. Los Angeles’ dizzying scruff of John Doe and X, the Go-Gos, Dave Alvin and the Blasters. The Bay Area noise of the Dead Kennedys and (arguably) Green Day. And the explosive sounds backflipping out of … Washington DC.
Punk The Capital is a documentary that stage dives into the deep punk movement in the Nation’s capital through the 1970s and 80s. Because if you work for the IRS, or a congressman, or any federal office building full of gray suits and cornflower blue ties, Punk Rock offers the perfect release.
Although not a comprehensive documentary, Punk the Capital gives ample time and respect to one of DC’s most popular groups, Bad Brains, an all-Black band that can jam as hard as X and as frenetic as Iggy Pop. The docu spends time with Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, the pioneering Slickee Boys, and interviews with the creators of Dischord Records giving a pretty decent, if colorized, history.
There is a surprising amount of available material – photos and video – that makes it into the show. DC was jumping, and Punk the Capital has proof.
Yet, for a docu covering a music genre known for its short, kinetic songs, Punk the Capital grinds terribly slowly. The backstories and recollections are heavy with the weight of remembrance. Name drops and “remember when” instances that are apropos of nothing to most watching the movie litter the speech like trash day on I Street. Many of the interviewees, Henry Rollins being one, scream about the “relevance!” of the genre. And its “importance!” C’mon now, Punk does not need cheerleading. If any musical style is set to endure in this day and age of transient, flavor-of-the-second nothingness, Punk is it. Any musician that needs to broadcast loud, important messages, Punk will be that relevant choice.
Punk the Capital does show lots of love to the history and to the musical style. That love seeps into every frame of the movie like sweat in a cramped backroom venue. DC Punk has an important place in musical history and co-directors Paul Bishow and James June Schneider clearly want to plead that case. And if a legal document is required for such, well, the Punks are already in the perfect location.
Be sure to catch Punk The Capital – and many other indie projects – over on Slamdance
A version of this review appears on Cinefied.com