Combustible Celluloid
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With: H.R., Ian MacKaye, Alec MacKaye, Henry Rollins, Cynthia Connolly, Dante Ferrando, Skip Groff, Darryl Jenifer, Kim Kane, Howard Wuelfing, Don Zientara
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Paul Bishow, James Schneider
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 90
Date: 06/29/2021

Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Big Takeover

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Punk rock fans know that Bad Brains and Minor Threat were the centerpiece bands of the Washington D.C. scene of the early 1980s, but Paul Bishow and James Schneider's documentary Punk the Capital: Building a Sound Movement does an excellent job of fleshing out the story, and giving it a backbone. It turns out that the two legendary bands did not simply appear out of nowhere. There were earlier punk bands, like the Slickee Boys and the surprisingly polished, melodic Tru Fax and the Insaniacs (an early Green Day?), that started things rolling. And, they get quite a few badass points, given that a town like D.C. was full of stuffed shirts that did not like a punk movement, not one little bit. Starting a punk band in New York, L.A., or San Francisco was cool, but starting one in D.C. was quite a bit more dangerous, with more serious opposition.

The film explores the small, secret venues that were home to this music, and the ways in which the punks were able to keep the movement going. We see the rise of Bad Brains (although there apparently isn't enough time to explore the band's reggae-influenced side), and the evolution of Minor Threat from the Teen Idles, and then, later, into Fugazi. (My heart was warmed by a sequence in which the leaders of both bands, HR and Ian MacKaye, meet up with a hug to be interviewed for this film.) Henry Rollins is also here, a Washington D.C. native, who — I did not know this — sang in a band called S.O.A. before moving to L.A. and joining the great Black Flag. Fascinatingly, things wind up with a "what next?" vibe, looking at bands, like Faith, Void, and Government Issue, that were "thrown up against the wall to see if they stick." Bishow and Scheider give their movie a loose, D.I.Y. feel, in which the talking heads don't feel staged, and which things are allowed to breathe and rage.

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