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Important Book Alert #1: DESTROY ALL MOVIES

tn_DAMI want to tell you guys about a new book I got called DESTROY ALL MOVIES: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO PUNKS ON FILM, edited by Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly. I guess you might’ve already heard about it because some of the other movie websights beat me to posting about it, but you know what? The tortoise ate the hare, the boy who cried on the wolf, etc. Anyway I’ve been looking through it for a few days and I want to discuss it with the ladies and gentlemen of the outlaw community or whatever, because this is one of those passion project books printed with special blood sweat and tears based inks, and those deserve recognition.

Honor forbids me from calling this a review, because I somewhat know these guys. And that’s not bragging either, because everybody seems to know them – the Texans know them from the Alamo Drafthouse (they live in Austin), Harry knows them from Fantastic Fest, the Californians know them because they’re doing a big event at one of the hip L.A. theaters this weekend, and you probly know them because Zack used to do the Rolling Road Show, so you probly hung out with him when he was in your town. Or you saw his band play, or he used to babysit for you or you bought a car from him or something.

Made with artesian water
It's made with artesian water.

I think these two might be kind of like THE STEPFATHER, going around to different cities and setting up new life after new life, but luckily instead of murdering their families they just share their love of crazy movies. There was a time when they were in Olympia, Washington, our state’s capital and known worldwide as the birthplace of the Riot Grrrls and the Olympia Beer. There they were Baron Wasteland and Evil Dean, the unprecedentedly maniacal hosts of the Olympia Film Festival’s All Freakin Night (the annual all-night horror marathon responsible for my love of FRIDAY THE 13TH 3D). But this baby was conceived in Seattle and delivered by our own adult cartoon storybook publisher Fantagraphics. Zack and Bryan were in town working at the tiny Grand Illusion theater (a spot previously mentioned in my EL TOPO review) when they started their 7 years of work on this book. They knew I was writing SEAGALOGY and we would run into each other sometimes and compare notes as fellow people-spending-years-working-on-books-that-sound-ridiculous-but-we-know-it’s-a-good-idea. So I feel a kinship to them for that reason and also because the book has a review of HARD TO KILL in it.

mp_DAMBasically their idea was to review every movie that has a punk in it. That not only includes movies about punk rock like THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, or movies with punk main characters like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, it means every god damn movie that has a punk in it, even in one part. So you have these capsule reviews of all different kinds of movies and then they’ll slide in a sentence about how a guy with liberty spikes is in the alley near the end or whatever. From Bryan’s review of BREWSTER’S MILLIONS:

“The punk appearance in this film is incredibly brief and hard to catch. The VHS will surely cut him out, so you’ll require either the DVD or 35mm print because he only exists in the widescreen version. You’ll also need to have a DVD player with a zoom function to really make him kind of, sort of visible. Ready? Okay. It’s in the scene where Pryor is leaving his hotel room. There’s a large crowd. In the far, far right of the screen will be – for only a second – a man with a spiky mohawk standing beside a bleached-haired woman.”

Then it goes back into talking about Walter Hill.

They decided to limit it to 20th century film, and they had to come up with a strict definition for what constitutes a punk. It couldn’t be the guy from the Sanctuary of 1,000 Testicles in HOLY MOUNTAIN who has a mohawk, because that was before the existence of punk. It couldn’t be Mr. T, because he considers his hairstyle a tribute to his African heritage. To be included the characters had to be part of a musical or countercultural movement. Therefore Zack and Bryan decided that nobody in THE WARRIORS is a punk. They worried this would be controversial until Zack put together a WARRIORS cast reunion and nobody in the cast believed their characters were punks.

The research was grueling. It’s easy to look up what all the Steven Seagal movies are, but how the fuck do you find out which movies have punks in them, and find the time to watch them? In the introduction they explain the process of combing video stores in Seattle and across the country, and how hard it was to use Google and IMDb while separating punk rockers from “do you feel lucky?” type of punks. The thank-yous read like a tribute to the dying tradition of the video store, acknowledging many stores with an “RIP” after their name. They ended up with over 1,000 reviews and apparently that’s a small percentage of the movies they had to watch in order to rule out all the punkless ones. The book is 463 8.5″ x 11″ pages and beautifully designed with all kinds of stills and advertising art (in color at the front and back but mostly collaged in high contrast black and hot pink). And of course the cover sports that beautiful painted poster for CLASS OF 1984.

I count 15 additional reviewers, but it seems like the vast majority of the capsules are by Zack and Bryan. I think sometimes their approach can be too mean and hyperbolic (in his review of TANK GIRL Zack says that it will make you want to commit suicide but that “if the cast and crew of TANK GIRL have any integrity at all, they’ve already cleaned out the gun store.” Hey dude, lay off Ice-T.) but their infectious excitement for this type of goofball material, their obsession with the specific topic and their attention to the weird details make it very entertaining. They love bizarre ’80s schlock that most of us never heard of, so when it gets to one that they really love suddenly the reviews stretch out to epic length. I know they’re obsessed with this thing called SURF II, so after the review they spend three more pages interviewing the director and one on star Eddie Deezen.

That’s my favorite part of the book, the interviews that pop up all throughout. They got the people you would associate with punk movies like Penelope Spheeris, Alex Cox, Allan Arkush, Nick Zedd, etc., and they only ask them about the specific movies in the book and the punk aspects. They ask Clint Howard about filming concert scenes in ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. They talk to Brian Trenchard-Smith about DEAD END DRIVE-IN. They talk to a whole lot of punk musicians who appear in movies, sometimes with hilarious results and ended with perfect comic timing. I highly recommend the interview with guitarist “Sickie Wifebeater” on pages 221 and 222.

But the best interviews I think are the ones with obscure directors. I’m sure Alex Cox has said a whole lot on the record about REPO MAN, but how often do you get to hear the director of the skate punk movie THRASHIN’ explain his background? Or actor Jon Gries and director Greydon Clark separately explaining some character called “King Vidiot” in the movie JOYSTICKS? Probly the crowning achievement is their interview with Kirk Thatcher, “Punk On Bus” from STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, a character they explain is the original inspiration for the book. This is the kind of odd information that you might wonder about but you’d never think you’d get access to it, even with today’s computering technology.

I’m looking at this book and I’m kicking myself ’cause it’s so cool and I could’ve had some reviews in it. They needed all the help they could get to conquer that mountain of videos, but I blew it. The only review I submitted was of the MOONLIGHTING pilot, which opens with a barefoot, mohawked assassin chasing a jogger. But they wisely figured out they had to forget about TV shows if they wanted the book to be under 10,000 pages.

I never had any association with a punk rock movement, so I felt unqualified, like I would be a poser trying to comment on how accurately these movies reflect the safety-pinned way of life. I didn’t know what point of view I was supposed to offer. But now that I see it all put together I see that it’s really two books, one that’s about punk rock and one that has nothing to do with punk rock at all. That’s the book that chooses one random little swatch of American culture in the ’80s and ’90s and pulls in everything it’s connected to. That’s the genius of the idea, it’s a way of bringing together all these movies that have almost nothing to do with each other, and yet sort of do. It just so happens that the types of movies that tend to have a part where there’s a guy with a mohawk also happen to be the type of movies these guys are attracted to: shitty ’80s frat comedies, Italian ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK or ROAD WARRIOR knock-offs, low budget horror and action movies with little understanding of youth culture, etc.


So if this sounds interesting to you, trust me, you’ll be impressed. And hats off to Zack and Bryan for chasing and bagging their ridiculous dream.



Look for DESTROY ALL MOVIES at your local independent bookstore or through my Crassly Commercial Amazon Link (CCAL):

and for way more information about the book there is a cool websight for it: punksonfilm.com

This entry was posted on Friday, November 19th, 2010 at 3:19 pm and is filed under Blog Post (short for weblog). You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Important Book Alert #1: DESTROY ALL MOVIES”

  1. Please tell me that Lamberto Bava’s masterpiece DEMONS gets it due.

  2. Anybody in the L.A. area this weekend should check out the two-day festival of all punk-related movies being shown at the Silent Theater as part of the “Destroy All Movies” book tour. Some really bad-ass shit being shown — “URGH! A Music War”, “D.O.A.”, “Class of 1984”, buncha old TV shows, other cool shit. Wish I could make it myself, but alas I gotta work.

  3. Yes, DEMONS and DEMONS 2 are both in there. I believe I saw part 1 at one of the All Freakin Nights I mentioned.

  4. The original Paul

    November 19th, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I’ve read about this and am interested in how the more international punk scene is represented. For example, does “Quadrophenia” get a look in? Or do the mods and the rockers not officially count as “punks”?

    Also, I don’t remember any “punk” characters in “Tank Girl”. (Although maybe my definition of “punk” is a little too narrow.) I’ll have to rewatch that one.

  5. DEMONS is my favorite misguided depiction of punks in film history. To give you some example of what I mean, the 4 punks in the film are named Ripper, Nina, Hot Dog, and Baby Pig.

    Baby Pig has naturally become a pet name my girlfriend and I use for each other.

  6. There were NON punk characters in TANK GIRL?

  7. The original Paul

    November 19th, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Majestyk – what punk characters were there? There was the wild girl and the straight girl and the soldiers and the faux-rapist and the weird kangaroo-mutant-things and the bad guy. None of which I’d ever describe as “punks”.

  8. I believe Tank Girl is considered something of an iconic punk character, although isn’t she related to one of the guys from Gorillaz? Not punk at all. Punks and non-punks will continue to argue about what is/is not punk. You must admit though, as far as most of the world is concerned, mohawk=punk.

    I’m not arguing with you though, Original Paul, I actually believe that a punk is exclusively a musician/performer in a punk band. Or possibly a groupie/roadie/sycophant in certain extreme situations. Then there’s the question of how punk are you? I was once told I am not nearly punk enough because I stopped buying Ramones albums after Mondo Bizarro. “You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone.”

    Yeah, this book looks pretty interesting. Anyone interested in the history of punk seriously needs to pick up ‘Please Kill Me’ by Legs McNeil. Great book. No film reviews to be found, however.
    Thanks for telling us about this, Vern. I will definitely pick this up via the CCAL.

  9. While we’re on the subject, does anyone know if ‘Decline of Western Civilization, part 1’ on DVD yet? Amazon has it listed but only the VHS edition is available.

  10. Paul – No QUADROPHENIA, but while looking it up I did learn that “Fight Professor” Stephen Quadros starred as a nerd in a movie called SHOCK ‘EM DEAD. Despite what was said in the recent post on The Ain’t It Cool News the book does have an index.

    Bryan – In the book there’s an interview with Penelope Spheeris who says she is preparing the DVDs. Apparently the reason part 3 never really got a release is because all the distributors wanted to get the rights to all of them, and she refused to give them up.

  11. Paul: So you’re telling me that the demonstrably punky characters in TANK GIRL are somehow not punks, but the guy with the liberty spikes glimpsed for half a second in the widescreen version of BREWSTER’S MILLIONS is? Since there’s usually no way of ascertaining exactly what music the character in movies listen to unless they’re actively listening to it onscreen (or they’re in Michael Mann movies, in which case we only know what their dads listened to), I’m saying that if safety pins and Doc Martens are a part of your daily fashion, you’re a punk.

  12. Now I’m going to have to watch my copy of Spice World tonight, looking for punks.

  13. To be a punk all you have to do is not follow the standard societal conventions. to look like a punk you need to have studs, patches, freaky hair (honestly hawks are very mainstream these days, yes even real ones not just the “emo” faux hawks). Tattoos and Piercings tend to help in cementing the punk look. but really anyone can be a punk so long as they are a leader not a follower. Atleast that is how i define being a punk.

  14. Do they count movies if actual punks such as Lee Ving or Henry Rollins star in them but there are no punk characters?

  15. Tank Girl is based on a comic by Jamie Hewlett, who dies the Gorriliz artwork. The Gorriliz are touring Aus with an ex member of The Clash…
    But seriously Tank Girl just looks punk as Hell. And the ‘fuck you’ attitude is great
    Henry Rollins said he shows up in random movies to surprise anyone who might stumble onto them
    There’s a website called Comic Punx, doing this for comics

  16. Hamslime – no, if they are not playing punks they don’t count them. Here they explain how hard it was to cut STRAIGHT TO HELL:


    I think it makes sense. Otherwise they would be able to count TANK GIRL as a hip hop movie because Ice-T’s in it. And JOHNNY MNEMONIC would be both hip hop (Ice-T) and punk (Rollins).

  17. Wait, THE WARRIORS had a gang named the Punks! Well, okay, they looked more like a bunch of farmers, but whatever.

    Sounds like a fun book.

  18. Sometime around when FRANKENCHRIST was the biggest album among North American punks, you would often overhear conversations about the allocation of “punk points.” Apparently there was a finely-tuned system to determine punkness. A nose ring, for example, would get you two points. Walking around with a rat stapled to your jacket, however, would grab you a mighty 50 punk points. Bonus points if the jacket in question was leather and the rat was still in its death throes. Triple-digit points were reserved for various outrageous acts, most of which were criminal and involved body fluids.

    I don’t know if that clarifies or further confuses the whole issue of determining what is punk and what isn’t.

  19. As Joe Strummer often said, without the Ramones concert in London in ’76 there wouldn’t have been any punk movement in Europe at all. So I’m not going to make this about nationality, but I am blaming film makers in the 80’s (sadly, most of them are American) for helping The Man in ruining punks reputation. In the countries I’m familiar with (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, England and Germany) the punk movement were highly political, and our goal was to get rid of all skinheads and nazis. And in real life we had some success. In Oslo for instance you couldn’t find a nazi skin if you looked for a whole year. I don’t know that much about the situation in America at that time, other than the fact that Biafra and Rollins tried their best to do something similar, but I do know that the movie punks kept on getting worse and worse. Class of ’84, anyone?

  20. HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH. Great film. At least 1 punk in there. Shame it was released in 2001.

    I imagine their treatment of SLC PUNK! is awfully interesting. Poseur? True punk? Mainstreamed bitchboy? Funny to watch? Painful to watch? And the same would go for SID & NANCY, I imagine.

  21. I still have to finish my werewolf movie book. :(

  22. Pegsman – I think the problem was unlike UK or a good portion of Europe, the “punks” never quite took over the U.S. mainstream rock. Marginal hits, but not runaway best-sellers which forced the whole industry to follow suite in copycat acts and formula songs (which happened in 70s UK after the Pistols exploded on the scene). Which is ironic considering dudes likes the Ramones and Iggy Pop were what spurred those Brits’ with inspiration.

    For example, the first “mainstream” punk hit album in America was LONDON CALLING. You know classic iconic album that was so good that despite coming out in states in 1980 after hitting Europe the previous year, Rolling Stone famously named it the best album of the Reagan Decade, later in their Top 10 greatest albums listing.

    Yet it only peaked at #27, but it did also give us the first “punk” rock song hit in America with “Train in Vain,” which went up as high as #23. Great for punk state-side standards, but eh. Clash’s COMBAT ROCK* went Top 10, 2x-platinum, and “Rock the Casbah” was a Top 10 superhit, later to be hijacked by the right-wing, much to Strummer’s disdain. So of course after becoming a mainstream success without selling out their musical (and political) integrity, those fuckers had to go and break up.

    Or for that matter, the Ramones’ most successful album (at least in America) was the Phil Spector-produced END OF THE CENTURY, you know the one they later disowned and fans like to suck in their gut and pretend it never happened. It hit #44 in U.S., while their own classic, iconic masterpiece RAMONES only hit #111 and most shocking in retrospect, “Blitzkrieg Pop” didn’t even fucking chart. Think about that shit for a moment.

    In short, punk rock in America (70s/80s at least) had two problems. It never quite escaped cultdom, and the nonsensical elitist morality of many fans. If you’re a punk rock act and don’t have a hit, you’re heroes. If you do have a hit, you fucking sold out man you whores! To skirt the mainstream is a badge of honor, and well such self-destructive behavior I think describes alot of the problems.

    A big contrast with the Pop Punk of today, where there doesn’t seem to be that much of a code of honor conflict situation. I refer as Neo-Punk because they’ve mutated (for good and ill) with different sources and inspirations to the point that they may share some of the same costume parties and motiffs, but watered down like cheap saloon booze. About as much “fire” as a potato chip.

    Besides on purely selfish old fart grounds, I fucking refuse to include such bullshit like Green Day in the same sentence with the Pistols or Clash or Ramones as some people unbelieably have done. That’s like putting Wings in the same league as Led Zeppelin.

    *=Really good album, but you gotta laugh at people who at the time called it their “sell out” record. Yeah because a band sells out by composing shit like “Straight to Hell” and “Sean Flynn.” Give me a goddamn break. Still I wish they would release the original two-LP album cut version, RAT PATROL FROM FORT BRAGG. They won’t, but they should.

  23. To me, the defining ‘Punk” movie is SUMMER OF SAM. The film seems to actually be something of a parable about why that ethos was very appealing to outsiders of the closed, increasingly hostile society of the time. Fantastic film. I’m already buying the book, as I can’t imagine there are too many other folks who fit into the target demographic as neatly as I do.

  24. I’ll have to add this to my cinema-centric reading shelf. On a similar, yet slightly off-topic note–Vern, did you happen to pick up Deep Focus: They Live yet?

    I started reading it a few days ago, and while it’s not bad, I definitely think you should still go through with your previously mentioned book idea on the film as the “Deep Focus” lacks the comedic dashes, witty bite and general bad-ass perspective I crave in my film essays.

  25. Do they include any other Japanese films beyond Tetsuo? Most of Sogo Ishii’s movies, for example, are amongst the most punk ever to put to film, especially his first three Panic High School, Crazy Thunder Road and Burst City. I can’t see a list on their website (or get it to load past the main page) so sorry for having Vern be the official book looker upper!

  26. Mr. S. – Don’t forget REPO MAN.

    Which surprisingly, Vern never reviewed.

  27. STRAIGHT TO HELL and SUBURBIA are my top two “punk” movies, mostly for their home-made aesthetics. They also catch some of the oddness that constituted punk’s sense of humor.

    RRA: America also underwent a hugh chilling effect when Biafra was dragged to court over the Giger poster he included in early pressings of FRANKENCHRIST. He describes the trial in great detail on THE HIGH PRIEST OF HARMFUL MATTER.

    Least convincing punk: Christian Slater in GLEAMING THE CUBE. Even New Romantics thought that was lame.

  28. RRA: I wouldn’t get too tied up in the commercial success of the US punk albums. There’s a huge amount of endearing classics, far more than the British scene. I don’t think elitism comes into it. And I don’t think being cultist is a problem, as long as poison isn’t involved. I don’t think the opinion of fans matters if you produce good stuff. My fellow Brits wanted to smash the state, while the US scene didn’t tap into popular opinion quite so much. Yet Billy Idol did. Kim Wilde did. Their success make them good? Also, John Lydon frequently pops up on my TV advertising butter. Meanwhile Jello is still doing his great thing running Alternative Tentacles.
    Back to the topic, the book sounds fun. And my favourite in this field, of course, is REPO MAN. Would love to read a future Vern review of it. Some great ties to the anti-consumerist stuff in THEY LIVE. Also, I wish people would mention Alex Cox’s WALKER more. Not about punks, of course, but really superb.

  29. Murder Slim: Any scene that can produce the Circle Jerks is okay with me.

    Also, American punk demonstrated its value with a single line: “All I wanted was a Pepsi / and she wouldn’t give it to me.”

  30. I’m going to second (or is it fourth or fifth) a request for a Repo Man review. Not to get all pushy, but I’d be curious to hear Vern’s take on it. It’s probably one of my favorite films of all time. It’s truly an act of great cosmic chance that the film was made at all.

  31. RRA – have you heard Strummer’s soundtrack to WALKER? Its awesome. Supposedly he’s in the film too — there’s a great interview where he talks about living the character during filming — but he’s almost entirely absent from the final cut. I think I picked him out in two background bits during the entire runtime (he’s almost unrecognizable anyway, but if you get a look at him from the production photos you can find him). But yeah, the film is great, Rene Aberjonois in particular is a hoot, while Harris delivers is awesome as usual. His performance has to be among the most committed straightfaced comedy role of all time.

  32. Murder Slim – No and you’re absolutely right, I was just making a general observation of the difference between how “Punk Rock” hit the US and UK music industries.

    As for Lydon, I sure hope he wasn’t lip-synching to “Margarine in the U.K.” Alot of folks don’t like that era’s punk rock classics getting licensed to movies, commercials, and TV. Yeah people bitched at Clash for getting paychecks from Levi and Jaguar and Verizon, but how many new people heard such tracks for the first time from those ads? Shit it gave those guys their first (belated) #1 hit in “Should I Stay or Should I Go” about a decade later.

    And honestly, I popped like a mother fucker when I heard “Magnificent Seven” in IRON MAN 2. Good job Favreau.

    Interestingly, I was looking at Rolling Stone’s Top 10 Songs of all-Time, and the following classics NEVER EVER went #1 in America: “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Imagine,” “Respect,” “What’d I Say,” “What’s Going On,” and “Johnny B. Goode.”

    RBatty024 – I loved the Circle Jerks’ cameo in REPO MAN as the lounge act from hell.

    Mr. S – I remember it as a blink-and-you-miss cameos. Anyway yeah it was an inspired soundtrack, a ballsy pick by Alex Cox which paid off. Listening to that and Strummer’s EARTHQUAKE, and then compare it with Mick’s B.A.D. stuff at the time in the late 1980s, you kinda realize why, among many reasons, The Clash imploded. Pity really.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t like WALKER the movie. In idea its brilliant, topical for that time. But its one thing to be slightly on the nose with the symbolism and satire, its another to get a sledgehammer to the nose. Only effective scene might be the ending, when the US chopper comes in to save the bandits. Might have been more shocking and potent if the gimmicky modern-tech-in-1850s didn’t come off as just that: A gimmick.

    Still I suppose I’m glad WALKER has found a second life after that Criterion DVD release, at the least for Alex Cox’s pure mental health which really quite frankly got over WALKER’s total failure with critics and its release, which was about as loud as a mouse’s fart.

    Mostly, I dig good Strummer music getting heard. Always do.

  33. http://freedarko.blogspot.com/2010/12/death-by-sex.html

    ^^Bethlehem Shoals says^^:

    ***PLUG FOR SOMEONE ELSE’S BOOK: I like Zack Carlson a lot, even if I probably can’t call him my friend because we failed to get his current address when sending out wedding invitation. But his new book, Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film is totally fucking awesome, whether or not you like movies, punk, bathrooms, or any combination of the three.***

    Goddammit. Now 2 of my favorite online bloggers (short for web loggers) are plugging this thing. I have no choice but to buy the motherfucker.

    {shakes fist toward Allah for only granting us humans 24 hours per day}

  34. Vern, I’d love to read this book but it seems out of print and super expensive, any chance on a reprint in the future?

  35. I heard a while ago that there would be a new edition, but I don’t know if it’s still happening or not. I hope so.

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