Sunday, November 23, 2008

924 Gilman Street: Bad Tact & Timing

924 GILMAN ST: Let’s Talk About Tact and Timing DVD
Directed by Jack Curran. Available from Alternative Tentacles.
Let’s talk about tact and timing, indeed. Or the lack thereof. This DVD has been several years in the making, and I suppose the filmmakers deserve credit for making this happen. To say it’s not easy to put a film together is an understatement, so please don’t lose sight of that fact as you read this review. But unfortunately, my initial reaction after watching the DVD was that I couldn’t believe that someone actually managed to provide a document of the punk scene that was even more flawed than THE RAMEN DAYS. (I know that criticizing THE RAMEN DAYS here will probably not result in any future contributions to SF&L, but I’m willing to bear that cross, heh.) I’m of the opinion that the story told in THE RAMEN DAYS is incoherent at best, but it at least has aesthetics on its side what with the stop-motion graphics and some of the best-looking live band footage I’ve seen in any punk video. This DVD doesn’t even have that going for itself. Although there’s more of a clear story here, chances are the viewer fell asleep before it even begins to get told. I can safely say that I was ready to pack it in when I realized that the film’s intro ran eight minutes long before we even saw the opening credits.

First and foremost, this DVD is nothing more than a puff piece on Gilman Street, painting a picture of an overly happy, exciting place to be at all times. If you’ve read the Gilman book, you already know that this depiction of the club is anything but accurate. Further emphasizing that image is an inordinate amount of live footage devoted to Gilman’s annual Punk Prom, which had originally started out as an all-out goring of that high school sacred cow that most of us were too hated to attend anyway. But by this point, Punk Prom has less to do with anything remotely satirical than it does with actually emulating the real thing that takes place at your local high school. Nor does it have anything to do with punk, although I’m sure someone at the club could find it in themselves to debate that claim. I know I’m not the only one resentful of the high amount of Punk Prom footage used. Many of us did (and some still do) put in a lot of effort to try overcoming Gilman’s long-standing reputation as a punk version of the old kids’ TV show “Romper Room,” and this DVD does little to nothing to dispel that notion. When seeing this stuff, can you believe that this is the same club where punks fought off gangs of Nazis and jocks in the middle of the street?

The local punk scene pretty much gets the shaft in this film, with FLESHIES being one of the only current, relevant bands presented here. Otherwise, you’re treated to grainy old videos of OPERATION IVY, GENERATOR, and PINHEAD GUNPOWDER. (The current live footage doesn’t fare much better, although that may have more to do with the club’s lighting than anything else.) I won’t even get started on the inclusion of bands for reasons like “so-and-so’s older sister went out with such-and-such scenester back in the day.” But I will say this: bands like AGAINST ME! and TED LEO & THE PHARMACISTS have no place on this DVD, and were included simply because they were popular. Other punk celebrities like Lars Fredricksen and members of THE OFFSPRING are also there for that same reason, in which their useful contributions to this film amount to zero.

The interviews themselves suffer from bad editing, in which simple things like someone pausing or stammering could have easily been cleaned up and made things flow better. There’s way too many points where background music could have helped, especially at times when interview subjects are answering questions in their best monotone while stammering the whole time. (Isn’t this place supposed to be fun and exciting? Why are you people so damned dull?) And I’m sorry, but it was a bad choice to not have a narrator. I know the director didn’t want to have one voice speaking for a collectively run club and saw a narrator as taking the easy way out, but I don’t care. When you have text popping on and off the screen describing the club, it serves the exact same purpose a narrator would have anyway. So much for that bright idea.

I could continue listing 924 GILMAN’s various flaws, but to do so would be redundant, as they are plainly obvious to anyone that’s ever sat down and paid attention to a documentary before. Most, if not all, of those flaws are due to the fact that the director Jack Curran (a founding member of FIFTEEN with Jeff Ott) is a first-time filmmaker. That’s one thing to consider, but how can you use that excuse when a big label like Alternative Tentacles decides to put their support into it by releasing the DVD? For some reason, I wouldn’t have expected Alternative Tentacles to sink that kind of money into a film that I can only describe as halfassed. Ultimately, this is nothing more than an infomercial about a shiny, happy pop punk club that doesn’t really exist in reality. I’ve been told that sociology professors have expressed interest in showing this in class when they’re discussing collective structures. Fuck that shit. If it weren’t for people like them, there wouldn’t be people like me, and as a brief participant in this DVD, you have no idea how much I H-A-T-E being a part of something like that. But I’ll be fair: if anything, 924 GILMAN STREET is reflective of how the club was being run at the time, so I suppose this DVD is fitting after all.


Sean said...

Hey Jake.

You know, this was a really bold review to call it as you saw it. I've visited Gilman only once well over 10 years ago (and actually walked away with a "cute" anectdotal story), but regardless...

Reading this actually ignited another feeling with me...why IS calling it as you see it considered talking shit/looking like a loudmouth/makes you a backstabber etc? Like in the dvd's case, you gave a dead-honest opinion, yet through out your own second-guess to the politicing involved up there.

My conclusion: Punks are pussies...plain and simple. Damaged people trying to make more of their damaged surroundings that they...well...keep damaging even more. They create in their minds that they were born with nothing, so they frantically hold on to an extremely malformed "morality" to exert some sort of "control" in their own powerless lives.


I just like talking shit on punk!

Good read though!!! SWEAR ON MY GRANDMOTHER'S GRAVE!!!

Mr. Sean said...

That Sean is totally correct. Real Punk is about talking shit & calling it like you see it, not this pathetic clinging PC leftist Communist bullshit. I briefly tried to conform to that mentality, but it made me SO depressed. It was insane.