director David Markey
This Circle Jerks documentary works mostly as an oral history of the band, interviewing, not exclusively but almost, members of the band for their recollections. It starts out with a lot of old bad video with muddled sound from the band’s heyday in the earliest of the 1980’s. So much so, it seems like it’s going to be quite a slog.
But interestingly, the rest of the story unfolds, and while it’s far from a masterful work or even necessarily compelling, the tale of this band tells something different from what one might of thunk.
As well known as the Circle Jerks were for their name and skanker cartoon dude, they had one pretty great album, Group Sex (1980). They were a big hit in LA at the time, a minor supergroup made up of ex-members of Redd Kross and Black Flag. But personnel changes shifted things on a near constant basis. While singer Keith Morris and guitarist Greg Hetson were ever-present, the rhythm section went through a series of transitions that were more significant than in some groups.
As the 80’s wore on, the band put out less and less important records while Hetson had his other foot in Bad Religion (an apparent point of contention). They re-formed in the 90’s and cashed in on a major label deal in the wake of Green Day in what looked like a point of embarrassment. They also regrouped to cash in on playing some large venue gigs in the 2000’s.
The upshot is that the real hardcore punk scene didn’t make anybody any money. Even the more legendary bands, notable names like the Circle Jerks were just getting by, and though they had more fame and notoriety, that didn’t add up to much at the end of the day. And when “punk broke” in the 1990’s, they were just another group on the sidelines of the scene getting turned to capital.
More than anything, I’m glad to have learned how the nerdy guy from Repo Man (1984), Zander Schloss, wound up playing bass for the band. That always seemed kind of weird. Though he also seems like a cool guy in reality.