Also keep in mind that this four “iron crosses” rating is mainly for people who’ve seen literally every other movie that exists about punk rock (which I have! Thank you very much!). I saw some pretty negative Amazon.com reviews stating that the Generation X footage isn’t synced up or that there’s too much interview footage with a Seditionaries employee and not enough Pistols live footage. If you’re looking for that sort of stuff, check out the brilliant The Filth and the Fury or, if you’re looking for an overall gloss over of 70s punk, there are plenty of VH1 style documentaries on youtube.
Now that we’ve “separated the wheat from the chaff” as they say, let’s get down to business. Punk: The Early Years was originally shot for a British TV program in 1978. The movie captures the feel of being right in the world of these events as they’re happening. We get live footage from the Slits, Generation X (not synced up, wah-wah), X-Ray Spex, the Adverts, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Souxsie and the Banshees along with interviews with all members of Gen X, the Slits, the Adverts, Polly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, Marc Bolan from T. Rex (regarding his recent tour with the Damned), the writers of the Sniffin’ Glue zine, random punk rockers on the streets, some nobody punk bands from other countries (one guy even has an early mohawk!), Jordan, the painted up Seditionaries clerk with liberty spikes and various major label execs.
The interviews are pretty insightful. The A&R guy at CBS all but entirely dismisses the politics of the Clash by saying, “eh, they’re young and naive.” It’s such a trip hearing the label exec using outdated record industry lingo when describing a punk band. Marc Bolan, while showing respect for the new groups, alleges that the Pistols and the Clash would eventually use strings (“aggressive strings”) on their albums. He was right about one of those! Other interview highlights include Polly Styrene discussing the meaning to “Oh Bondage Up Yours”, the Sniffin’ Glue guys talking about the hypocrisy of British clubs and authorities for banning the Pistols, Jordan of Seditionaries talking about how punk has helped break down gender barriers and Siousxie Sioux defending herself against accusations of fascism.
On one hand, the film functions as a time capsule of how much stuff has changed; in less than a year after the doc was made, punk would evolve/de-evolve into multitudes of different sub-genres that its original creators could never have dreamed of and hardly any major labels would touch punk anymore giving rise to the independents. On the other hand, it shows how much hasn’t changed; the live footage in the dingy clubs (or are they clubs) looks exactly like dingy basement/club/VFW shows that you or I have attended all our lives! You can practically see kids that you’ve seen at those shows right in this video before you realize, “hey, wait a sec, this footage is from 1977!”
It’s 2013 and punk rock has been defined, redefined, analyze to death and turned into a cartoony parody of itself. In the words of Mudhoney, it’s “overblown.” There are countless articles, books and TV specials out. There are so many different factions, it’s hard to believe they’re all under one genre umbrella – how did garage rock, arty post punk and macho bro-core all have roots in the same-ish music genre? Punk: The Early Years takes us all back to a more innocent time.
But why trust me? See for yourself!