By Al Kratina
Nov 28, 2006 - 11:12
Thanks to Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, I have a feeling that every sub-genre of music, no matter how ignored by the mainstream, will get its moment in the sun. The problem with hardcore is that if you bring it out into the sun, it skitters around like a silverfish with its head cut off and then shrivels up and dies. Nevertheless, hardcore, which for those unfamiliar with the genre is like punk's younger cousin with a bad attitude and fetal alcohol syndrome, gets the royal treatment in this documentary from music video director Paul Rachman.
Of all the genres to focus on, in the wide spectrum of music that exists only to annoy your parents and get high to, hardcore must be among the most empty, aside from trance and whatever 'jungle' is. And, consequently, the documentary suffers both from the dearth of depth inherent in the genre, and a sense of unwillingness to mine what little of interest is present in hardcore. While the film explores the birth of the scene, it doesn't really examine the roots of the music in anything other than a cursory manner. Born from the punk movement, hardcore got its start in the early 80s, when groups like Bad Brains and Black Flag took the rebelliousness of punk music, the angst of delusion Regan-era youth, and the brain damage of heavy metal, and mixed it all together. What came out were about 4 different chords, drummers with carpal tunnel syndrome, and a lot of kids with amphetamine habits. The scene, such as it was, spread quickly from L.A. and Washington to Boston, and New York before burning out in 1985. It was brief and influential, but unlike punk, some forms of metal, and pretty much any kind of music that isn't spun by a coked-up DJ in Ibiza, it didn't really have much to say other than the F word. Essentially, it was a bunch of pissed off kids being pissed off, hating the mainstream as loudly as they possibly could, and aside from starting the still-growing Straight Edge movement through Minor Threat, most would argue that hardcore was fairly incidental in music history. And American Hardcore really makes no effort to alter this opinion.
Stylistically, the film owes more to the surf and skate documentaries that bred like priapic vermin a few years ago. Like Dogtown and Z Boys or Riding Giants, American Hardcore mixes interview footage shot today with archival material from the 80s, a familiar formula that soothes you into thinking you're watching The Discovery Channel until some guy with a head like a sack of hamburger talks about living in a squat and urinating on a drunk girl's face, which happens quite a lot in this film. If you have an interest in the genre, it's rewarding enough to see live clips from bands long gone, and to find out what happens when punks grow up (answer: they don't, they just get glasses like Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys). But from any other standpoint, especially a filmic one, the documentary doesn't really scratch the surface of a subject that doesn't really go all that deep to begin with. The film does occasionally make half-hearted efforts to lend hardcore some import, by linking the genre to disillusionment with the Reagan government and the aforementioned Straight Edge movement, but mostly the movie seems to be preaching to the choir, telling the story of hardcore to people who know it already. They'll be happy, and everyone else will be confused, and that's probably the way hardcore would like it.
Rating: 6 on 10