Underground Music

Films

PUNK
movement, philosophy, art, cinema, music

The release of Ramones’s first album in 1976 is considered the birth of punk rock. However, when Legs McNeil and John Holmstrom founded the magazine "Punk" in 1975 in a Connecticut’s basement, the rebelliousness and music that had eliminated guitar solos and denied any saleable attitude were already a feature of MC5, The Velvet Underground and the Stooges, to name just a few. Formed mostly by nerd comic fans and assiduous readers of authors who once dubbed the counterculture, punk rock was based on direct and short songs similar to a punch in the face. They amplified philosophical adolescent questions that according to the social system should be soon forgotten in exchange for adulthood, a stage in which one lives just to work and obey. In this case, to question is to resist and that is what many did. Such resistance began timidly in a New York city influenced by the glitter era, faced the distrust of the more puritan ones in London, gained gigantic proportions in Los Angeles during the early 80s and finally conquered the world.

Despite the changing nature of the movement, the pioneer’s greatest legacy is a "modus operandi" adaptable to numerous causes, which, as already mentioned, can be muffled by the social system. Punk became an ideology that puts at maximum volume everything that society prefers to keep as a whisper. Even the minorities, oppressed and silenced by the male and physically brutal nature of the first wave of punk rock, found in the molds of the early movement a way to trigger their own trajectories. As McNeil and Holmstrom, Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail (from the Bikini Kill band) and Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman used a magazine accompanied by a manifest to prepare the basis for the feminist strand called Riot Grrl. Even before the Riot Grrl, North America had already followed in the underground scene the effervescent Queercore, devoted to the expression of the LGBT causes. Empowerment through visibility (the act of making visible and publicizing your cause and your life) has always been firmly tied to the punk movement (even though it might be considered a kinesthetic "visibility", which hits the ears beyond the eyes literally through screaming and calls).

Such spectrum, which involves chords, ethics, politics and irony, has taken proportions that went beyond the music. Besides it was probably by means of identification and necessity that many forms of expression have been allied to punk. And cinema is part of this chaos, which is much more organized than many think. Directors such as Nick Zedd, Sogo Ishii, Penelope Spheeris, Alex Cox, F.J. Ossang, Amos Poe, Lech Kowalski, Bruce McDonald and Julien Temple, among others, have diluted punk’s microcosm in narratives, documents and audiovisual manifests. Kowalski, McDonald and Temple appear in this exhibition with works that are seminal to the definition of punk.

The return of the documentary program Underground Music (UM) discusses punk as movement, philosophy, art, expression and, of course, music. Five documentaries trace an overview of punk — which, I repeat, is very difficult to define —, of its explosion to the big public and of what it has become after the mutations that still persist nowadays.

All of them have started out of the "Do It Yourself" concept, as well as the need to protest. This concept has reached its peak with Alexander Oey’s Crass: There Is No Authority But Yourself, an anarcho-punk group founded in 1977, which, besides being recognized by advocating direct action and autonomy over one’s own work, uses its force to fight against conformity. Unlike their contemporaries, they earn their living writing, painting and gardening and are proud of having never surrendered to the social system.

Malcom McLaren is the cornerstone of The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle, directed by Julien Temple: a tour de force of the always dubious posture of the Sex Pistols in relation to everything. There is nothing better than the lack of legitimacy to record the (in)consistency of the Pistols as punks, as a product and mainly as great victims. It does not matter if punk was indeed a movement perpetrated by McLaren to earn millions of pounds by selling clothes and records of icons that released only one album, because the gene of his idea went much further. The Punks Are Alright by Douglas Crawford presents their route from Canada with the Forgotten Rebels, passing through Indonesia with the Superman Is Dead and Brazil with the Blind Pigs, in order to indicate that there is something bigger than aesthetics and the love for music. Punk is a way out to the ones who need to exist in countries immersed in oppression and terror.

Even when touching unhealed wounds, the Underground Music (UM) program reveals the cultural and emotional importance of punk in the boldest of its films: Hardcore Logo by Bruce McDonald. The film exhibits all of its contradictions such as the need for affirmation and the culture of self-destruction in the form of parody, while following the fictional Hardcore Logo band on the road. McDonald, who is known for using punk as the core of his stories —as an aesthetic form, a dramatic axis or by casting exponents of the genre, such as Joey Ramone and Jello Biafra —, was also good at this kind of approach precisely for being a witness of the inconsistencies of the North American scene. Were these inconsistencies a legacy of the Pistols?

Following the war cry, "Girls to the Front", created by Kathleen Hanna — who used to invite the female public to become the squad facing the audience, while taking the first ranks of the Bikini Kill shows —, UM opens a space for the expansion of the female voice in the punk context. Queercore is the focus of She’s Real (Worse Than Queer): it is the DIY concept in action, a real picture that shows the epicenter of a struggle for space, respect and safety through the anguished voice of its own protagonists. Two women inserted into the trenches of punk rock, Sini Anderson and Lucy Thane, are respectively in charge of these two films. Representativeness arises in front of the camera and also behind it.

All of this would probably not have happened without the Ramones. UM exhibits the End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones, an essential documentary for fans of rock regardless of genders and genres. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy and, later on, Marky, Richie and C.J. struggled for the recognition of the general public, while being idolized by underground scenes, especially in Brazil and Argentina. Today they are an institution represented by thousands of T-shirts around the world. Unfortunately, the founders of the group did not survive to see the glory due to arduous years traveling in a cramped van, but the story behind the band is very intense, sad and, why not, one of the funniest of all times.

We did not plan to offer a nostalgic trip through these movies, but rather a necessary look at what has been left behind, so that we can take another step forward. What changes has the punk movement brought to music and performance? Can we do anything new? Again? If they made any revolution, it was only by chance and in a way completely oblivious to the industry. Independent. Our time has come.

Pedro Tavares
Curator

Ana Clara Matta
Collaborator

CineSESC
Rua Augusta, 2075 | Cerqueira César
19º55'29.1"S 43º57'46.8"W