A smash hit on the festival circuit, “We Are the Best!,” a Swedish movie about teenagers starting a band, has people buzzing about hardcore movies again. Legendary rock critic Greil Marcus picks his favorite moments in punk cinema.
Some of the strongest punk movies have little or nothing to do with music. What’s on the screen is purely attitude ("Repo Man"), a smear of jeopardy and revenge ("Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me") or flat, plain, nervously complete defeat ("Office Space," "Ghost World"). Punk as music, where what’s at stake is the desire of a few people to speak in public and see if they can get anyone to listen to them, is much harder to catch. But there’s a scene in the new "We Are the Best!" that throws the whole story into relief. Two tiny teenage girls in Stockholm are trying to rehearse for the first time. The one behind the drum kit shouts to the one on bass, neither having a clue about what her instrument does, let alone what they’re doing: “Keep going!”
It’s that moment of release, that moment of discovery, of breaking through a wall. And every good punk movie turns on just such a moment. The film may have been made to find that moment. It may be all you take away. As with Joy Division, struggling through "24 Hour Party People" (2002) to find that special, undeniable, unanswerably damned voice that must be heard — and going out with the most uproarious version of “Louie Louie” you’ll ever hear.