An IFC Original
by Acclaimed Filmmaker Don Letts
Premieres Saturday July 9
at 10pm ET/11pm PT
"All you need is one guy or girl to stand up and say "Fuck this," and everyone goes: Voice of a generation – thank you. I've been thinking that, I never had the guts to say it – and all of a sudden – "Fuck this" has a backbeat."
Henry Rollins in PUNK: attitude
From Jerry Lee Lewis pounding at his piano to Marlon Brando in "The Wild One", to hippies protesting against Vietnam, to Michael Moore criticizing the president, to bloggers venting frustrations on the World Wide Web. Each generation has its own punk pathfinders, that creates its own soundtrack to effect change.
Late 1960s/early 1970s: The Paris riots and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations – the first televised urban insurrections – had a galvanizing impact on the youth of the world. In London, the ever-expanding 'dole queues' and the proliferation of workers' strikes were creating an uncontainable feeling of frustration and dissent.
Mid 1970s: Revolution ignited on the streets of London and New York. Volatile subcultures, led by musicians challenged the establishment, shook the status quo and began to seep into mainstream consciousness. While the angry, reductive music and do-it-yourself attitude was snatched up by continents of disenfranchised youth, it struck fear into media and government.
The product of youth rebellion, the punk movement had its originators, its intellectuals, its trendsetters and its burnouts. It inspired an entire generation of filmmakers, poets, photographers, fashion designers and graphic artists. And then punk disappeared… or did it?
In PUNK: attitude, pioneers of the 1970s/80s punk movement rock us and shock us with their stories. Contributors include Tommy Ramone (The Ramones), Glen Matlock and Steve Jones (The Sex Pistols), Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (The Clash), Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), David Johansen (New York Dolls), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Siouxie Sioux (The Banshees), Captain Sensible (The Damned), John Cale (The Velvet Underground), Howard Devoto and Pete Shelly (The Buzzcocks), writer Legs McNeil, rock photographer Bob Gruen and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.
In the 1970s, the likes of Joe Strummer (The Clash) were grabbing guitars. Their friend Don Letts – a renowned London DJ at the time – grabbed a Super-8 camera. Inspired by the punk do-it-yourself philosophy, Letts went on to direct over 300 music videos, including all those of The Clash. Previous documentaries include Grammy-winning The Clash: Westway to the World (1999), The Revolution will not be televised: Gil Scott Heron (2003) and Sun Ra: The Brother from Another Planet (2005).
Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) relates:
"Everyone was always hanging out in Don's room because he had all the records? The Slits would be up there, The Clash would up there. That was the beauty of that scene, everyone got a band together."
As testament to the power and appeal of PUNK: attitude, the film celebrated its world premiere (documentary competition) at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in April, followed by its West Coast premiere at Seattle Film Festival.
PUNK: attitude premieres on IFC Saturday July 9 at 10pm ET/11pm PT, as part of IFC's "God Save IFC" night. This will be followed by:
11:45pm SLC Punk! (1999, Dir. James Merendino, starring Matthew Lillard)
1:30am special episode of Henry's Film Corner, hosted by Henry Rollins
Where Did Punk Come From?
PUNK: attitude explores major pre-punk influences, such as MC5, Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The New York Dolls, Suicide, Patti Smith and Television.
The NY punk scene aesthetic was born out of necessity more than it was out of fashion: safety pins were used to hold clothes together. Meanwhile, London boutique owners Malcolm McClaren (manager of The Sex Pistols) and Vivienne Westwood (fashion designer) became synonymous with the punk 'look'.
Eventually 'tabloid' punks began sporting trash liners, while safety pins became an accessory, and hung from ears, noses, even cheeks. This 'fashion' became uniform and regimented – contradicting the original anti-branding ideals of punk rock.
Media and Punk Rock: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Punk?
When the media got hold of punk, they tried to squeeze the life out of it, labeling any music they didn't understand as 'punk rock'. But the musicians didn't want to be labeled 'punk', especially by the very establishments they hated. Despite grappling to categorize 'punk' and affix to it a set of stereotypes, the media and society were afraid, and saw the musicians and their fans as an aggressive threat to the status quo.
The Ramones put New York punk rock on the map. Their fast and furious style of under-three-minute songs, and simple, often self-mocking lyrics, exploded in the UK and soon reached the rest of America, making "punk rock" a household term.
God Save the Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols' short, but explosive career incited a cultural revolution. In 1976, a bemused interviewer on a British television talk show dared Pistols' band members to curse on live television. The public were outraged. The media went wild, running headlines such as, "The Filth and the Fury.'
Ready to tour the US, The Pistols were initially denied visas. At San Antonio's Randy's Rodeo, The Pistols played to 2,000 boozing rednecks, who were all ready to pick a fight with the band members (exacerbated by Johnny Rotten's t-shirt, bearing two gay cowboys having sex.) By the time they reached San Francisco, they were playing to massive audiences. But shortly following the US tour, the Sex Pistols broke up.
The Story of the Clash
It's been said that the Sex Pistols made you want to smash your head against the wall, while the Clash gave you a reason. Joe Strummer was well aware that something he thought of in his basement had the potential to drive a disillusioned youth across the world into action, hence his many references to radio broadcasts.
The Clash were inspired by black movements against the white regime and wanted to incite a similar passion into white youths. The inspiration behind the song "White Riot" draws comparisons with MC5's goal to create a "White Panther Party" years earlier.
CBGB's and The Roxy
The requirement for bands playing at New York's CBGB's (Country, Blue Grass, Blues) was that they play their own music. These gigs exposed many people to revolutionary bands like Television, The Ramones, Blondie, and Patti Smith.
On January 1, 1977, The Clash played opening night at London's first punk venue. At The Roxy, a whole generation of punks were turned onto reggae by then – DJ Don Letts. However, due to the fact that bartenders were selling joints and everyone was doing speed, the club couldn't make ends meet and closed after 100 days. The Roxy wasn't the only 'closure' blamed on drugs. According to some, when the speed users turned to smack, punk itself was over.
Punk is Dead?
Many bands from the original punk scene pursued careers as musicians, and therefore evolved from the reductive three-chord blasting, began honing their craft and experimenting with new types of music. Many broke up and started new bands: Johnny Lyndon (The Sex Pistols) formed Public Image, Howard Devoto went from The Buzzcocks to Magazine, Blondie became "New Wave".
According to Don Letts, 'punk' is not encapsulated in a single historic moment in time. It is an ongoing dynamic of counter-culture, of dissatisfaction with society, government, media, corporations – that pumps political awakening into a lethargic youth. 'Punk' is an attitude to mainstream culture that declares: what seems impossible is possible.
NO WAVE: Though hated by most punk fans, bands such as Theoretical Girls, DNA and Teenage Jesus were determined to challenge people with their music and lyrics.
PUNK-HOP: Late 70s/early 80s New York – punk began to merge with hip hop (Beastie Boys). Like punk, hip hop was a communication tool, a cranked-up microphone to empower to the disenfranchised and the dissatisfied. One major difference in the two music genres was that punks saw riches as an embarrassment and against their ethos, while hip hop artists went all out for the gold.
HARDCORE PUNK: With the record labels closing their doors to punk, musicians once again broke free and went underground. Music from bands such Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and Agnostic Front got faster and more intense?
NO DRINK, NO SMOKE, NO FUCK: Punk bands such as Minor Threat, Teen Idols and Fugazi began the "no drink, no smoke, no fuck" mentality, creating a counter culture to the counter-culture. Fugazi would not do interviews in any publication that included liquor and tobacco advertisements.
Nirvana, Sonic Youth and the Year that Punk Broke
A Seattle band called Nirvana exploded into mainstream culture. Record companies flung open the doors for other punk-inspired rock bands like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains. But Nirvana didn't come from "nowhere" – their core audience were the hardcore punk fan base that had brewed underground for ten years. Nirvana made the angry punk attitude palatable for the masses, and appealed to the disillusioned, depressed white youth. Today, bands like Green Day, Offspring, Rancid and Blink 182 are direct descendants of punk rock.
The more repression mainstream society and government place upon youth, the more valuable punk attitude becomes. It is in this spirit that Letts made this film:
"The only reason to reflect on the past is to see a way forward. This film is like a call to arms. Many young people today have forgotten how to empower themselves. They're served innocuous helpings of MTV, which by its very ideology, is devoid of politics or anything radical. As punks, we said, 'Never trust anyone over 30,' but sometimes I think it should be 'Never trust anyone under 30.' – A lot of young people are so 'establishment' now. If a punk attitude happened back then it can happen again and, looking at the situation today, it sure needs to!
Director Don Letts
"You only need 5% or less to embrace ideas, and change the way people think all over again." Jim Jarmusch in PUNK: attitude.
ABOUT DON LETTS, DIRECTOR
Letts came to notoriety in the late 70s as the DJ at the first punk club 'The Roxy, who single handedly turned a whole generation of punks onto reggae. In 1977, Letts adopted the punk D.I.Y ethic and made his first film The Punk Rock Movie. Shot on Super-8, it remains the only documentary on the U.K punk scene with Sex Pistols, The Clash and many others. From late 1970s through 1990s, Letts directed over 300 music videos for artists such as Bob Marley, RATT, The Pretenders, Musical Youth, Elvis Costello, Big Audio Dynamite, Public Image, The Jungle Brothers, S' Express, Black Grape, The Pogues, Beenie Man, The Gap Band, Apache Indian, The Jungle Brothers, Eddie Grant, Sly and Robbie and all The Clash videos. During 1980s, Letts co-founded the group Big Audio Dynamite with Mick Jones of The Clash. He performed and co-wrote four albums with B.A.D.
Film credits as director include: Planet Rock (1997) BBC/WGBH; feature film Dancehall Queen (1997); Return of the Super Ape: Lee Perry (1998); Grammy-winning Westway To The World: The Clash (1999); The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Gil Scott-Heron (2003); Sun Ra: The Brother from Another Planet (2005) BBC.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
For IFC, Alison Palmer Bourke and Evan Shapiro served as Executive Producers and Susan Heimbinder served as Supervising Producer. Cactus Three, UK's 3DD and Fremantle Media executive produced the documentary; Metropolis Group produced.
ABOUT CACTUS THREE
Cactus Three develops, produces and executive produces documentary films and programming. Recent productions include the acclaimed HBO series Family Bonds, Toronto Film festival stand-out Three of Hearts (NBC Bravo), and Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, the award-winning film, based on Peter Biskind's best selling book.
Founded in 1994, and headquartered in the UK, 3DD Entertainment is an independent distribution company specializing in the sales and licensing of music programming, documentaries and feature films. 3DD delivers star-driven programming to a worldwide television and video audience, working with such artists as Robbie Williams, David Beckham, Woody Allen and Luciano Pavarotti.
Launched by the world-famous recording studios, Metropolis' production division is fast-building a reputation as the home of creative music programming for DVD and broadcast. Metropolis produces concert films for bands such as The White Stripes, Snow Patrol and Bryan Adams, as well as DVDs (including the creation of the biggest-selling music DVD of all time for Led Zeppelin,) and large-scale music documentaries such as Punk: Attitude.
ABOUT IFC TELEVISION
The Independent Film Channel (IFC) is the first and most widely distributed network dedicated to independent film 24 hours a day, uncut and commercial free.
IFC celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2004 with its most extensive original programming line-up ever, which included Henry's Film Corner, Nanette Burstein's Film School, Ultimate Film Fanatic, Rocked With Gina Gershon, In the Company of Women, the third season of Dinner For Five and John Landis' Slasher. In the past, IFC has made its mark with originals including BaaadAsssss Cinema, The American Nightmare, Indie Sex: Taboos and A Decade Under the Influence.
Other upcoming IFC documentaries, include Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2005), the first feature-length documentary from director Xan Cassavetes' which named by the National Board of Review as one of 2004's Top Five Documentaries; and Wanderlust (2006), created by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor).
The Independent Film Channel is a part of IFC Companies, which has established itself as the future of independent film. With the television network, as well as a film distribution and production unit and a VOD service, IFC Companies has created over the course of the past decade a revolutionary end-to-end business model and brand that focuses on developing and nurturing talent and maximizing the value of independent film. IFC Companies uses its unique cross-platform position to broaden the audience of independent film and to provide independent filmmakers with a strong voice. IFC Companies is a division of Rainbow Media Holdings, LLC.
Bag, Alice, THE BAGS
Barrett, KK, THE SCREAMERS
Bayley, Roberta, Photographer
Biafra, Jello, THE DEAD KENNEDYS
Branca, Glen, THEORETICAL DOLLS/STATIC
Cale, John, VELVET UNDERGROUND
Capo, Ray, YOUTH OF TODAY
Chance, James, JAMES WHITE AND THE BLACKS
Clarke, John Cooper, PUNK POET
Czezowski, Andrew, The Roxy Club
Devoto, Howard, THE BUZZCOCKS/ MAGAZINE
Gruen, Bob, Photographer
Harron, Mary, Punk Magazine/ Film Director
Holmstrom, John, Punk Magazine
Hynde, Chrissie, THE PRETENDERS
Jarmusch, Jim, Film Director
Jenifer, Darryl, BAD BRAINS
Johanson, David, NEW YORK DOLLS
Jones, Mick, THE CLASH
Jones, Steve, SEX PISTOLS
Kane, Arthur, NEW YORK DOLLS (deceased)
Kramer, Wayne, MC5
Kristal, Hilly, CBGB's
Manitoba, Dick, THE DICTATORS
Matlock, Glen, SEX PISTOLS
McNeil, Legs, Punk Magazine
Miret, Roger, AGNOSTIC FRONT
Moore, Thurston, SONIC YOUTH
Morris, Keith, CIRCLE JERKS
Mullen, Brendan, THE MASQUE
Pirroni, Marco, ADAM AND THE ANTS
Pop, Dee, BUSH TETRAS
Ramone, Tommy, THE RAMONES
Rev, Martin, SUICIDE
Rollins, Henry, BLACK FLAG
Salon, Philip, THE BROMLEY CONTINGENT
Sensible, Captain, THE DAMNED
Pete Shelly, THE BUZZCOCKS
Sinclair, John, MC5
Sioux, Siouxie, SIOUXIE AND THE BANSHEES
Smear, Pat, THE GERMS
Styrene, Poly, X RAY SPECS
Sylvain, Syl, NEW YORK DOLLS
Up, Ari, THE SLITS
Vega, Arturo, Artist