Bloodied But Unbowed - As They Were, They AreThursday, May 13, 2010
On Thurday night I arrived home at 10:30 after having watched the world premiere of Susanne Tabata’s (below, left) documentary Bloodied But Unbowed. I was too spent emotionally to even think of going to the party after, which was to be held at a nearby club. The prospect of waiting an hour or so before some aging punk rockers, with double chins, were to come up to jam was an unpleasant one.
Tabata’s film, 75 minutes long, is a work of love and agony. It took her 3½ years to accomplish it all with shoe-string budgets. And getting punkers and their crowd together is akin to making a Tower of Babel in a film version. That Tabata succeeded is ample proof of her cast iron personality to persevere against all odds.
The film has a raw look that goes well with the subject, Vancouver’s punk rock scene of the mid 70s to early 80s. It's about such bands as the Furies, the Subhumans, DOA (very much alive to this day in spite of those initials, dead on arrival), The Modernettes, the Pointed Sticks, the Payolas and my favourite band ever, anywhere Art Bergmann's Young Canadians. The film also deals with the interaction of these bands with the Vancouver art scene, and in particular of one who was in both camps. Jim Cummins.
Just about anybody would have pointed out what was missing from her film. We all had our favourite local bands and signature songs. But in 75 minutes lots of stuff had to go to the editor’s cutting floor. The three blond stooges, Randy Rampage (below, middle), Brad Kent and Zippy Pinhead were pricelessly funny yet one of the writers, Les Wiseman told me that a lot of that material had to go.
I would have liked to have seen or at least heard mention of the role of the perennially unshaven Bud Luxford’s punk boat cruises and Fuck Band concerts (and Luxford's subsequent release of these concerts in records) or the acknowledgement of such "lighter" punk bands like the Scissors whose Wrecked My Car was one of Art Bergmann’s (top) favourite Vancouver Songs. Perhaps the Secret Vs were not exactly a punk band but their song, Waiting for the Drugs to Take Hold is up there in my list of one of the best Vancouver songs.
But I am only quibbling here, because Tabata, helped by a long list of writers, editors, etc (about as long as the guest list to any punk concert of yore) has achieved a film that without mentioning in any kind of detail the sound of punk, brought for me that excitement (the sound) I felt the first time I ever heard Art Bergmann and his Young Canadians at the Smiling Buddha.
In many respects DOA singer/songwriter Joey Shithead dominates the film with his presence throughout as does Gerry Useless. They were there in the beginning and while Useless is fit and healthy now, Shithead is fit, healthy and singing still.
Shithead talks and explains his philosophy of punk with intelligence and succinctness. It all makes sense. But he is not able to compete with the primal and raw image of Randy Rampage (who steals the show) up in the air, thrashing his electric bass and reminiscing about drugs and alcohol (almost as good, but we never really watch him drum in the film, is Zippy Pinhead with his infectious smile). For me Rampage is the image of punk and the image of the film that will linger in my memory.
Tabata wisely tried to put some order into her documentary by having sections. The section on Art Bergmann is worth the whole film and here Tabata pulled all her stops and delivered. The ending where the philosopher/king of punk, Bergmann confesses that the muse left him when he abandoned drugs and alcohol, is poignant and as the camera gets close to Bergmann’s face and you see its humanity and humor I realized what it was I had first heard at the Smiling Buddha so many years ago and that Tabata had brought it all back.
The double chins of the aging punkers will fade from my memory and what will remain is the excitement and the electricity, of those guitars, of the basses and of the drums. It was the sound of punk that was the soul of punk. Everything else was show.