When fanatics regurgitate arcana onto the world
By Daedalus Howell
Of all our cultural franchises on –philias, it's the cinephiles, audiophiles and bibliophiles who foster perhaps the most socially acceptable proclivities, and yet somehow they're still left out in the cold of mainstream culture. Fetishists par excellence, they are the true fans, the ones who remind us that the etymological root of "fan" is "fanatic" and all of the idolatry, zealotry and evangelism that might suggest. Some fanatics horde warehouses of ephemera related to their passions; others shoot rock stars. The more productive fanatics enshrine their beloveds in encyclopedic exegeses, as is the case with Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film by Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly, with a forward by punk frontman Richard Hell.
Meticulously executed, the nearly 500-page book is as much a mash note to punks and film as it is to the notion that obsessive-compulsive disorder has a curatorial upside. Case in point: In the low-aiming, high-concept comedy Brewster's Millions, there's apparently a scene in which Richard Pryor leaves a hotel, and in the extreme far right of the frame, a punk with a spiky Mohawk is visible for a second. Of course, he's only visible in widescreen home video releases of the film, for, as the authors of Destroy All Movies point out, he's cropped in the others.
Attention to detail such as this demands a redefinition of "completist." It's easier to find credible footage of Sasquatch than it is to track every single punk who ever appeared in every single commercially released film, and for mere seconds, at that. Yet these guys found them all, and if on the off-chance that their neurosis failed them, they invite updates and corrections via their website, PunksOnFilm.com.
Those who weaned themselves from the teat of mainstream media in the '80s found quick refuge in such films as The Decline of Western Civilization and Suburbia (both directed by Penelope Spheeris, who deservedly garners puddles of ink), but how many saw director Nick Zedd's They Eat Scum, Geek Maggot Bingo or War Is Menstrual Envy? Enough said.
Destroy All Movies (or DAM, as the book refers to itself in transcribed interviews with the likes of Exene Cervenka, Ian MacKaye and Repo Man director Alex Cox) is a browser's delight. Not only will it confer punk cred to one's coffee table, its brief, elliptical entries and occasional interviews with punk film luminaries will make for exquisite bathroom reading. (Other places in one's home this book might complement include any door in need of stopping, because it's about the size of a small-town phonebook—remember those? Yeah, they went out of fashion like liberty spikes.)
The broader-themed volume Music on Film, which takes a more agnostic approach to the cultural connection between music and movies, is a pocket-sized series of scholarly tomes on music-themed films ranging from chestnuts like West Side Story to the chests-and-nuts faux glam rock of This Is Spinal Tap. For the latter release, author John Kenneth Muir draws a genealogical relationship between the lauded mockumentary and the "comic philosophy that arose in a specific context: America on the Watergate era of the late 1970s." This is the same font from which the most iconic iterations of Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon and a bevy of other comedy troupes would spring, alumni of which are comprised in the core of Spinal Tap's creative team: director-performer Rob Reiner and his cast of mock-rockers Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer.
Though slim, Muir's book presents copious Tap trivia, most of which has yet to be warmed over on the internet (score one point for print). Apparently, at one point the creators considered involving a subplot based on a "backstage Rosencrantz and Guildenstern angle" and some hapless roadies. Another point is that Reiner had originally intended to portray a character in the band himself, but bowed out, taking a note from Martin Scorsese's Last Waltz and instead conducting candid if softball interviews with the musicians.
Throughout both Music on Film and Destroy All Movies, the question as to whether such expeditions into the depths of cultural arcana are necessary is answered. They are necessary, because in the very least, the work of fanatics such as these allows the rest of us to just be fans.
Daedalus Howell removes the tinfoil-covered cucumber from his jeans at the Future Media Research Lab, FMRL.com.
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