This Documentary Puts You Inside the Punk Rock Scene of London during the Late 1970s
London and New York City were the center of the punk rock explosion during the late 1970s. There was no better place to be for those exploring a new art that often says “fuck you” to the powers at be. In New York, you had places like CBGBs hosting acts like The Heartbreakers, Blondie, Talking Heads, and The Dead Boys. While across the pond venues, such as The Marquee Club, welcomed Sham 69, Chelsea, Generation X, the Stranglers, and the Buzzcocks. The movie, Punk in London, explores these individual bands of the London scene in the underground clubs they played and asks those essential questions like – why punk, what the f**k is it, and is there a future?
The film was directed by Wolfgang Büld, a German director with a nice resume. The narration is German, and everyone interviewed for the film speaks English. You should pay close attention to the narration as they explain who is being interviewed, because there are not titles along the bottom like a typical documentary. Some people, or bands, you will quickly recognize, others not so much.
Roadent, a long-time roadie for the band The Clash, makes an appearance and offers one of the more outlandish interviews (Jimmy Pursey flashes his a** during an interview at one point ha.ha.). In his humble opinion, each band after the Sex Pistols and The Clash are mere copies of them. The hope was to inspire different bands and unique tunes, not the same as what was already done. Agree or disagree, that’s the honesty you will receive from the movie.
Each interview paints a picture of punk through the eye of the beholder. As the movie progress, it is clear that most artists form music to be creative, to expand on what was before, and do something new (despite Roadent’s opinion), while those eager to make a profit look to punk as a way to sell. You aren’t left with which is wrong, and which is right, but only an understanding of punk during the aftermath of its initial explosion in London.
The performances alone are worth watching the film, Punk in London. You see Subway Sect, The Jam, The Lurkers, The Adverts, Wayne County and the Electric Vibes, The Boomtown Rats, and X-Ray Specs. And the last ten minutes include live shots and interviews with The Clash. Joe Strummer is the main focus during the performance. The camera is placed below him as he sings and plays with the light above, highlighting strum marks on his guitar.
I will say, it is perfect the film ends with a show by The Clash, one of punk rock’s most political and talented bands. You forget the doom and gloom of the industry people and club managers eager to make a buck off a bunch of punks. Instead, you see the pioneers of a genre and a subtle reminder that if we can see that, the message and point of what this is all about, punk has a future.