DVD review: cheap is junk – if it ain’t cheap, it ain’t punk

The new DVD about the southern grassroots music label Plan-It-X Records has its place in your collective house, but after watching it I’m sure that place will be the free box. The prospect of spending an evening with it seems to be promising at first. The colorful package niftily displays the combined efforts of two long running organizations asking us to pay attention. Both Microcosm and Plan-It-X have run with and in some ways improved upon the models they copied. Plan-It-X fulfills the void created in the late 90′s that should’ve been filled by such labels of catchy and intelligent Pop Punk such as Lookout or No Idea Records. But within a half hour of turning it on I had watched with agonizing interest as the video went through the motions of modern day documentaries covering modern day counter culture music. Not brave enough to turn it off–fearing I would miss something, what I got was another incentive to make people think I am an utter asshole.

But watching this from beginning to end I had to wonder if the makers of this doc actually considered just who their intended audience is. If it’s “The PUNKS”, the insiders and fans of the label’s respective bands and deeds, the viewer doesn’t get much depth into their favorite acts. They’re a good selling point though–live footage and interviews from Against Me!, Spoon Boy, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, Kimya Dawson, Defiance Ohio‚Ķ.and a whole legion of good spirited bands. The screen time of live bands is on average 30 seconds–usually there to illustrate some point or tell the story of the label. On the other hand, if the intended audience is the uninformed, then that would explain the doc’s tactic of spelling everything out before getting to the meat and bones of seeing young freaks get all freaky and shit. If that is the case, then this doc has its place on those satellite networks that show programs catered for liberals and progressives. I can see the good intentioned Americans waiting for Democracy Now! to come on watching the phenomenon of deformed gawky white people in Bloomington IN. as they would with the interest of tribal people in Sudan. For the people in between, those who know about the label and who want to learn its story and all the sordid details–how can they stand to give it repeated viewings? Maybe they’re in it, or one of their friends is in it. If I sound harsh it may be due to giving Microcosm a chance before to delight me visually and intellectually–only to be hoodwinked into giving up an hour of my mind and life to subculture navel gazing such as their docs of Portland bike lanes and the game of Risk. I guess given the reality of today’s YouTube, such projects can safely exist to reach the few out there who need this kind of stimulation. But frankly, I wish they hadn’t created the plastic product that would quickly find it’s way to that artificial island in the Pacific.

It is not an accident that I viewed this work the day I heard the news of Malcolm Mclaren’s passing from this world. Malcolm was instrumental in the explosion of the Sex Pistols and hence punk’s first years in the public consciousness. Arguably every thing associated with punk can trace roots to Malcolm’s outlandish ploys for attention. He is in death just as intentful as he was on upstaging any contenders to his legacy. They worked by the way. Just watching a few minutes (again) of the movie of the Sex Pistols USA tour called DOA, it is simutamously seedy and inviting. The makers of “If It Ain’t Cheap” could learn something from this film and another one called “Decline of Western Civilization,” which likewise spends time explaining the L.A. Punk scene, but gives the viewer a feel and personality lacking today. But maybe that’s the problem–television. The people in the late 70′s early 80′s had sought to go out and do things besides being glued to some screen waiting for inspiration. The doc on Berkeley’s Gilman St. music club is pretty much as vapid and predictable as this new work. Though the people and scene we have today as seen with the Plan-It-X doc are on the right track at times, they largely have their integrity more intact than Mclaren and Decline’s maker Penelope Spheers. I guess we should get it straight when presenting ourselves to the straights; should we define ourselves in painful detail, or should we fascinate and shock them into attention?