The punk phenomenon exposed...
'The House of the Rising Punk' excellent DVD but actually takes 52 minutes before boldly announcing its main contention that it took The Sex Pistols to resell Punk to the Americans and only then did the whole Punk scene break out.
Author and Punk catalyst Legs McNeil further contends that 'it was a little too wild and crazy' and that 'Suburban kids didn't get it 'til the 80's but it didn't sell until the 90's with Nirvana'. He tellingly concludes that 'you don't wanna be first in America cos you don't make the money'.
In between the opening interviews with Richard Hell, Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith, Christoph Dreher's considered account of the origins of Punk and what we in the UK might call New Wave, is easily one of the best effort to cover the era.
Overlooking the fact that he doesn't manage to get the likes of Deborah Harry and Lou Reed on the end of his camera, he still manages to elicit some interesting recollections from the movers and shakers of an era that, roughly speaking, started circa '77 and if you believe the interviewees themselves was all finished by the end of 78.
Perhaps the most important and obvious thing to state that this is that 'The House of the Rising Punk' is not just an excellent account of the times but a de facto film. There's a sense of both the dynamics of the events, core incidents and important bands as the scene unfolded and the film also an insight into both the changing times and the subsequent influence of what became known as Punk.
The interviews are snappy, cogent and relevant and are backed up by some excellent previously unseen footage. Thus Patti Smith fans would not be disappointed in purchasing this DVD. Ditto, Television and Iggy fans in particular. UK viewers will recognise the Old Grey Whistle test clips of the overrated New York Dolls and Patti performing 'Horses', but there are other excellent unseen clips of Iggy causing mayhem at the height of his self destruct period. In fact in one interview he wasn't totally oblivious yet as when he is asked whether he's influenced anyone, he memorably relies, 'Well I think I wiped out the 60's'.
Whatever the Anglo-American arguments about the origins of Punk, the main interviewees neatly frame the major catalysts of what became known as Punk. Thus Lenny Kaye says of Patti Smith for example, that she brought 'a sense of performance to poetry' while photographer and sometime door person at CBGB's Roberta Bayley notes Punk wasn't really coined as a term until '75 and at that point it was actually the title of Legs McNeil's magazine. And it is McNeil himself who in a reference to the Sex Pistols first US tour poignantly concludes that Americans don't really like something until it's sold back to them by the Brits.
With further excellent contributions from film makers Jim Jarmusch, Amos Poe and raucous performers of the time such as Dee Dee Ramone to Jayne (Wayne) County, this film pretty much covers the waterfront. And perhaps the final word should go to author and Punk catalyst Legs McNeil who compromises over the arguments of who started what by bluntly stating that because America is so big it can take 5 years for something to catch on, whereas with Britain being smaller it just exploded immediately.
You can pay your money you and make up your own mind up as this film clearly sets out the prime movers Stateside.
Review by Pete Feenstra