Punk rock. Is there any other genre that evokes so much history and transformation? It’s the genre of music that has always defined releases of anger and energy. It’s also created its own sub-culture and lifestyle. Being cooped up inside can make anyone restless. You crave the outdoors, the feeling of being in close human contact, and especially for us, going to live concerts.
Even though concerts aren’t occurring at the moment, the closest we can get to that sweet release is watching humans run headlong at each other in concert films and documentaries. The one good thing about this restless abandon is that we all have time to catch up on movies, shows and books we have placed to the wayside.
Punk isn’t just a genre, it’s a lifestyle defined by inclusivity, self-worth, and self-expression. Here’s our list of the 5 best punk docos ever made.
Punk rock has always given voice to the anti-establishment while raging against the machine and trying to promote the voice of people who aren’t often heard. It is an all-inclusive genre. No matter who you are, you have a home in punk. Now is your time to catch up on the history of the defining genre.
With documentaries like Gimme Danger and the Filth and the Fury, we see the brute force this genre has had on the world. It invented lifestyles (Minor Threat’s Straight Edge promoted an anti-drug message), started revolutions (Sex Pistols railing against the world), and helped some of the worlds greatest bands find a voice.
So dive headfirst into the crowd with these five punk documentaries. If anything, they’ll show you that nobody should ever feel left on the outside. We guarantee your pent up restlessness will dissipate and fuel your urge to get back into the moshpit.
Gimme Danger (2016)
Begin your punk odyssey with the birth of punk as we know it. Veteran director Jim Jarmusch leaps into the beginnings of the Godfathers of Punk, The Stooges. Gimme Danger captures the raw power and shake appeal of Iggy Pop in all his peanut-buttered glory. Featuring interviews with all of the living members, Jarmusch pulls together glorious original footage of the band while tracking how their short-lived career broke the doors down for one of the most earth-shattering genres to exist.
What better title for a documentary about punk rock than simply Punk! The four-part docu-series was co-produced by Iggy Pop himself. Covering the entire history, from its early ’60s Detroit beginnings through to its huge commercial explosion with Grunge in the ’90s, you get to see how the genre grew to become the juggernaut it is. The sheer amount of people they got for this series is mind-boggling. Henry Rollins, Ian Mackaye, Johnny Rotten, Thurston Moore, Wayne Kramer, Debbie Harry, Flea, Jello Biafra, the list goes on. What’s the best thing about this series? It is completely free to stream on SBS VICELAND. Go grab your fix right here, right now. Seriously, what are you waiting for?
Punk: Attitude (2005)
Don Letts was stuck smack bang in the middle of punk’s explosion. Beginning his career as The Clash‘s videographer (seriously though, what a way to start your career), he would go on to produce acclaimed documentaries The Punk Rock Movie and the award-winning The Clash: Westway to the World (both of which are also worth watching).
His crowning jewel, however, Punk: Attitude, also follows the rise of punk rock, however, it deviates by focusing on the attitude of the bands who were at the beating heart of the genre. The looks, the anger, the message, the power, the sheer need to be heard are all discussed across bands from The Clash through to The Ramones. With rare concert footage and even rarer interviews, Letts gives you a behind-the-scenes excursion to the birth of a ‘musical revolution’. You can also watch this film in its entirety on YouTube! Check it out below.
The Filth and the Fury (2000)
What a headline, what a title, what a way to introduce the shocking and biblical group into the world! The title was taken from a Daily Mirror article about the Sex Pistols following their live interview with Bill Grundy. Over the course of the interview, Grundy, a creepy old man who drank far too much, teases and prods the posé of punks he has on his show. As the interview slowly degenerates, guitarist Steve Jones did the unthinkable (at least for the time). He dropped multiple F-bombs on live television.
With that, The Sex Pistols became public enemy number one. Instead of simply being a shocking snap in British society, The Sex Pistols also managed to produce one of, if not the greatest punk album ever made: Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Nothing has ever been more full-frontal, shocking, mind-blowing, or game-changing than the Pistol’s debut.
The Pistols were never just a band, they were cultural icons. Julian Temple, the film’s director, chronicles the band’s meteoric rise and catastrophic fall. Lasting only three years, the Pistols achieved so much while doing so little. Tectonic plates shifted because of this band and Temple is able to open the doors as wide as possible so we can glimpse the intangible.
Interviews with every member excluding Sid Vicious (obviously) help paint a picture of the whirlwind that represented a definitive shift in society itself. You also get to see the dark side of the scene. In a truly heartwrenching scene, John Lydon pleas “He died, for fuck’s sake” in response to people’s idolisation of his friend Sid Vicious. You truly get the filth and the fury. Watch this documentary and marvel at the perfection of anarchy. God save the Sex Pistols.
The Decline of Western Civilisation (1981)
Possibly the greatest and most influential punk documentary in history, The Decline of Western Civilisation is punk. Punk as we know it exists within this film. It is so influential and important it was even inducted into the National Film Registry. The title is ripped from iconic rock critic Lester Bang’s article on The Stooges where he described the group as the beginning of the end for Western civilisation as we know it. The film had such an effect that the head of the LAPD sent a letter to director Penelope Spheeris demanding the film to never be shown in Los Angeles ever again.
The documentary includes interviews with up and coming bands in the burgeoning Los Angeles punk scene. Black Flag, The Germs, The Circle Jerks and numerous other classic punk bands get the spotlight for what would be an inside and in-depth look into what was at the time a largely ignored musical scene. You see the true meaning and creation of punk as we know it today. Once again, it is completely free to view on YouTube and we have made it that much easier for you by adding a link below.
The film also defines the scene as what it ought to be considered, a sub-culture. Punk isn’t just a musical style, it is a way of life, a form of expression that allows anybody and everybody to feel included and loved. Newer punk bands such as IDLES have continued this message of self-worth. Punk lets us all know that we aren’t alone in times like these, and by goodness, that is a message we all deserve to hear.