What is considered punk rock and hardcore nowadays has evolved considerably since the early ’80s, a point proven by the new documentary, “American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986.” The 90-minute film will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival at the end of the month and features vintage footage from numerous U.S. hardcore/punk bands from this period, including Minor Threat, Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies.
The movie was put together by Paul Rachman (best known for directing videos for Alice In Chains, Temple Of The Dog and Pantera) and writer Steven Blush (who wrote the 2001 book “American Hardcore”). “There’s this ‘History of Rock’n’Roll’ series — one of them by the PBS, the other by the BBC,” Blush tells Billboard.com. “I saw both, and they get to this point in history. They talk about the Sex Pistols and the Clash, they talk to Exene [Cervenka] and X … and they go straight to Nirvana. It just kind of sent me on this journey to figure this out, and manifested itself five years later in the ‘American Hardcore’ book.”
Blush and Rachman have known each other since the ’80s, when they crossed paths as fans of the east coast punk/hardcore scene. “Steve was in D.C., I was in Boston,” explains Rachman. “I knew who he was, and in New York we became more aware of each other. I moved back in 2000, ran into him on the street and he says, ‘I’m finishing up this book, “American Hardcore.”‘ It instantly clicked in my head — this is a great film, and we’re the guys to do this. In December 2001, shortly after his book was published, we went to Boston, and did a first set of interviews. We ended up doing 115 interviews and finding about 100 hours of rare stock footage and hundreds of photographs.”
Rachman admits it was difficult to unearth this footage. “This is before even the VHS video revolution — ’80, ’81, ’82,” he says. “It was really hard to find documentation — particularly video documentation. If a kid was lucky enough to borrow his dad’s VHS camcorder, he would go to a show, shoot a full day of shows and shoot everything on ‘six-hour-mode.’ And that’s the master — those are the tapes we found.”
Highlights include rare live clips of Bad Brains (their first-ever Philadelphia performance, circa 1981), MDC and Negative Approach, as well as countless interviews. “I think the most interesting thing to me was to see what has happened to people,” Blush points out. “When we go see Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, it’s this mansion up in the hills in Malibu, and then on the other hand, you see how poor some of these people are, and how bitter some of these people are — people who did not get their due.”
Asked what he’d like viewers to get out of the film, Blush explains, “You see all these bands today and they act all hard and intense. [But] these guys were intense. These guys walked the walk and didn’t brag about it. We screened this to very few people, but [in one audience] was an 18-year-old kid. At the end of it, he was like, ‘Wow, kids my age are really going to be bummed out, because they’re going to see they’re not real compared to this stuff.'”