Combustible Celluloid
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With: Exene Cervenka, John Doe, Billy Zoom, D.J. Bonebrake, Ray Manzarek
Written by: W.T. Morgan
Directed by: W.T. Morgan
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 84
Date: 03/01/1986

X: The Unheard Music (1986)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The origins of punk are a bit of a gray area. We could start with the MC5 or with Iggy Pop and the Stooges, or with the Ramones. Or we could jump to the English punk movement of the late 1970s, when things became really ferocious. But after the Sex Pistols broke up and the Clash wound up with a top 40 hit, the movement came to America's West Coast. At the dawn of a new decade, there was X. And for a little while, they were all that mattered.

Consisting of singer Exene Cervenka, singer and bass player John Doe, guitarist Billy Zoom, and drummer D.J. Bonebrake, the band was fast and wild, with Doe and Cervenka creating crazy harmonies, singing mainly about heartbreak. They released two masterpieces in a row, Los Angeles (1980) and Wild Gift (1981), followed by two other great albums, Under the Big Black Sun (1982), and More Fun in the New World (1983). Ray Manzarek, the former keyboardist for The Doors, produced all four.

In 1985, the band tried for a smoother, more mainstream approach, and that's when this documentary was produced, though it contains footage running all the way back to 1980. It's more or less a loose scrapbook about the band, with live performances, videos, interviews, and other tidbits thrown in. But that effort to break out of the underground is definitely hanging overhead, like an accusation, or a guilty pleasure.

Nonetheless, there are many great moments here, and in retrospect their "sell-out" album Ain't Love Grand! (1985) has some wonderful things on it, like their hit "Burning House of Love." And don't miss the amazing expressionist music video with Cervenka playing a 1930s-style vamp.

MVD released this long unseen movie on Blu-Ray, with lots of cool extras including some new interviews with the band members.

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