American Hardcore (documentary)

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The day will come when everything that has ever happened will be the focus of a documentary. As we work toward that goal, we have “American Hardcore,” which tells of punk music in the United States in the first half of the 1980s.

As with too many of these docs, if you weren’t there or don’t already have a strong interest in the material, it gets old fast. Aside from a few sentences about how the Reagan era brought back white, preppy, 1950s-style conservatism, the film makes little attempt to put its subjects in context, much less to universalize the themes so that everyone can appreciate what’s happening. The movie preaches to the choir, in other words, and bores everyone else.

Directed by Paul Rachman and based on Steven Blush’s book “American Hardcore: A Tribal History,” the film does boast an impressive number of interviews with the movers, shakers, screamers, and wailers of the punk movement. He digs up a significant amount of archive footage, too, showing the bands when they were in their aggressive, angry prime. Black Flag, D.O.A., Circle Jerks, and Minor Threat are among the bands mentioned and/or interviewed, though those are just the ones I jotted down. Virtually no stone is left unturned: If they thrashed at a house party in Venice Beach in 1983, they’re probably mentioned.

The film is stubbornly fixed on addressing only the years 1980-1985, yet still feels overlong. Groups like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, who laid the groundwork for the ’80s punk movement, are almost ignored, as are the bands who came after the mid-’80s. Once again, this limits the film’s potential for reaching anything but a very narrow, niche audience. A person like me finds music history interesting, but history must include context, causes and effects, actions and consequences. Simply showing what happened in a specific set of years to a specific genre of music is of interest only to people who, well, are already interested.

C (1 hr., 40 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity.)

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