Friday, May 15, 2015

Film Review: D.O.A. (Don’t Overlook Any-Of-It) [1980]

Text by Lisa Baumgardner / FFanzeen fanzine, 1980
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

This review was originally printed in FFanzeen, issue #4, dated May/June 1980, page 11. It was written by Lisa Baumgardner Falour, who published Bikini Girl fanzine at the time.

Sadly, Lisa passed away early this year in Paris. Lisa was an incredibly interesting person, as was her fanzine. She worked as a writer, photographer, artist, and for a while as a BDSM pin-up model. She was also known for always carrying a hidden cassette recorder, on which she taped all conversations, and then would publish them in her fanzine when she found them interesting. But hardly anyone she transcribed was as thought-provoking as her. I was introduced to her by Diana Torborina, someone who I worked with at Dimensional Sound Studios, and with whom I became friendly (Diana, if you read this, please feel free to contact me).

For my first half-tabloid newsprint issue of FFanzeen, Lisa wrote a review of Lech Kowalski’s then-new, and now-classic 1980 documentary about the Sex Pistols, D.O.A. As a side note, Lech took out a full page ad for the film, for which he never paid the $100. I’m just sayin’. – RBF, 2015

D.O.A. will soon be released to theaters around the world as a feature-length punk rock documentary. It’s definitely worth seeing, but requires a lot of patience and objectivity. Punk rock and its spin-offs in the fashion, art and political world are both important and inconsequential, and tell a story about the ‘70s, yet doesn’t say much at all.

Lech Kowalski’s Film is hard to sit through but bears a number of incredible scenarios. Beginning with a baptism and a soundtrack peppered with corny heartbeats, we are led through the doorway of X-Ray Spex’s rehearsal studio for an astounding performance of “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” Cut away to an interview with the president of Warner Bros. Records, who sneers and mentions, “You know, we are not a non-profit organization!”

These perplexing statements are part of a much larger onslaught of visual sludge known as D.O.A. (Dead on Arrival), a 100-minute-long documentary film on punk. Not the “punk” I grew up with. Hopefully, you too were spared because it’s ugly and disturbing, and when I saw it, my own youth suddenly seemed too close and fresh and unsettling. Yuck!

A pretty girl with heavy makeup and short hair is interviewed in a prone position in a parking lot in Texas. She has just been literally thrown out of a theater where the Sex Pistols were playing. Her crime? “Hangin’ out,” she moans. Apparently, the police have used direct physical force to eliminate a group of fans loitering in the lobby. She looks pretty seriously hurt, at the very least extremely distraught. Can she get up? “This is why punks gotta carry chains!” she says. Violence is breeding further violence. “What are you doing tonight?” Lech Kowalski asks her from behind-camera. “Who cares?” she replies, starting to cry. “I don’t care. If you care, you get let down.”

The film is full of gruesome vignettes. The comedy relief? An interview with Sid and Nancy, O.D.-ing and barely coherent in his all-black bedroom in London. The only time Sid seems aware of anything is when Nancy peels off her black rubber t-shirt, glistening with sweat. He picks it up, sniffs it, and smiles with a look of wonder. “’Ey, it smells just like you, Nancy!” “Well, it ought to,” she replies, “I’ve been wearing it since the first day I got to London.”

“I ain’t afraid to walk down the street looking totally ridiculous,” one serious-looking London punk musician explains. “It don’t matter what ya got on. You’re a human bean, just like everybody else. You’re messed up.”

The message behind this film, as well as the continuity, is obscure. Punk is a reflection of decay, one might say, and as the title implies, was born dead. The similarities between British and American audiences are the boredom, pent-up frustration, and search for freedom of expression of the anger youth feels. British public officials are quoted ridiculing punk and insisting, “They can’t win.” Can’t win what? “I’m ashamed of the world we’ve made,” one female official says, “if our children are growing up with attitudes like this.”

There are moments in D.O.A. that come close to capturing the feeling at a band rehearsal. Four or five young musicians are kidding around in an old, garage-like converted studio, and they begin to belt out a tune as if their lives depend on it. Yes, we conclude, it does start out positive. It’s energetic self-expression, and it beats the fuck out of boredom. But by the time it gets to be performed before thousands of kids who’ve paid ten bucks to see it, it’s pretty sorry stuff.

D.O.A. is negative, but very thought-provoking. It is exciting to see a film with guts these days. It is straightforward, raunchy, and has no plot. It seeks to reveal glimpses of a fascinating phenomenon. Lech Kowalski has a lot of energy and determination to have traveled extensively with a crew numbering from four to thirty, and the footage shot of the Sex Pistols’ tour in the South, particularly Georgia and Texas, is priceless. He has not tried to be arty. He presents a variety of conflicting circumstances and opinions, and allows us to be voyeurs without getting spit on at a crowded rock arena full of young people looking and behaving like assholes. He shows us Sham 69, the Dead Boys, and Bleecker Bob, too. He also makes us wonder about money – the concert promoters, the record companies, the media – and the way they present punk to the world. One of the British officials insists the individual musicians are doing it for the money. We think of Sid and Nancy. In it for the money?

Bonus D.O.A. footage:

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