(2006) dir. Paul Rachman
The documentary American Hardcore is one of the latest attempts to capture music scenes of the 1980’s that I have seen recently. For me, this one held reasonably high interest because this was one of the musical forms that I first genuinely got into, though according to the documentary, my real discovery of the music in 1984 was at the tail end of the peak period of the genre. Who knows? It still seemed pretty big to me at the time, but the malaise that some of the musicians describe also really captures that feeling of the mid to late 1980’s.
The documentary itself is not that great. It’s an oral history with repetitive graphics of the U.S., showing the different scenes. They manage to get a lot of the big names, and the two that talk the most interestingly are Henry Rollins and Ian MacKaye. Some of these guys sound very dumb to be honest.
I think that there is a lot left out of this documentary. I think it also really doesn’t do a good job at capturing the cultural world of the time, though it does attempt to do this to an extent with shots of fashion styles and Ronald Reagan’s two inaugurations. Most of the video footage is awful (which isn’t surprising, since this was a low-budget sort of scene, but still…). There is a lot unaddressed culturally, such as why this was such a suburban white boy scene, and how the Bad Brains, who were totally genius, were totally, utterly unique in the scene, a band comprised entirely of African American Rastafarians. Actually, a documentary on the Bad Brains alone would probably be fairly compelling.
The film claims that the angry form of “Hardcore Punk” started in LA and then infected the nation by the bands touring. Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat are all given their due. But the scene was a bit broader than that. San Francisco is given short shrift, with the exception of Flipper. And why don’t they talk about Maximum RocknRoll and the early comps that they put out of California bands or the awesome Alternative Tentacles release of Let Them Eat Jellybeans, which I would love to find on CD.
But really, there hasn’t been a great documentary made yet about the 1980’s bands of any real genre. Kill Your Idols (2004) about the No Wave scene was a better film, Made in Sheffield (2001) about the Sheffield scene was a better film, and even We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen was better still. The best “scene” documentary from this period that I have seen would be Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001), which aggrandized the development of modern skateboarding, and parallels much of the period of the music developed, is the only one of any real merit. In fact, I hope that someone does manage to capture with more brilliance some of this stuff because it’s worth analyzing and revealing.