Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some People Film Everything They Do

The Cramps Crystal Gazing

It doesn't take a crystal ball to tell you that music is a visual medium and that punk rock is one of the more interesting visuals you can get.

Back in the mid-to-late 90s, when I worked at VH1, we were not allowed to play videos by punk rock bands; we were not allowed to reference punk rock bands either. That was the domain of our sister channel, MTV. MTV also got to play heavy metal and hard rock. VH1 got as hard as Bon Jovi, and as punk rock as The Pretenders.

chrissie hynde tower in store 1980
The Original line up of the Pretenders....with the late Pete Farndon at Chrissie Hynde's left, as she gives the camera that punk rock glare.

However, these days, VH1 does go there... well, even during my last year or so at the baby boomer music channel, as the likes of punk rock precursors such as The Velvet Underground were inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, the ceremonies which the channel broadcast, the punk rock influence began to show its face.

Lou Reed - 1976
Velvet Underground Co-Founder, Lou Reed

Neither MTV nor VH1 were the first or even among the first outlets to show this cultural creation, the music video. No - decades before there was even television, sound and vision were married in various formats. There were actual films which were screened in movie theatres prior to the features. Then there was the Scopitone. It was a the direct precursor of the music video as we know it. The Scopitone was like a jukebox for videos, and the term "scopitone" was and is used to describe the medium as well as the media.

There have always been musical and variety shows on TV that showed live, live-to-tape and pre-recorded musical performances.... Ed Sullivan, Hollywood Palace, Hullabaloo, Shindig, The Midnight Special, Soul Train, In Concert (Don Kirshner's In Concert, to be precise), American Bandstand and so many more; in Europe - Rock Palast and Ready Steady Go immediately come to mind.

idol reflection
Billy Idol, Generation X

Billy Idol and Generation X even had a song called Ready Steady Go which was pretty much a paean to the show.

Without these shows, our cultural musical memory vault would be empty. Thanks to the magic of television, video tape, film and kinescope, we have more than a century's worth of musical treasures to refer to, to enjoy and to be influenced by.

Taking a page from the archive/preservation and memento aspect of this phenomenon, some people simply film everything they do.

Sex Pistols

I don't know how many of you out there saw the Sex Pistols on their brief American tour, but there were cameras capturing their every move. I remember a studio facility I worked in during the 80s where the director William Friedkin (he directed The Exorcist, The French Connection, Cruising and other great works) kept an editing suite. . . one of his editors had just completed a job for Warner Bros Records - a little Sex Pistols live in concert compilation! Those of us in the know got to sneak a peek at the 1978 American concert performances of the Pistols in living color. Apparently Warner Bros and/or the band commissioned this capturing... and boy I am glad they did!

Tom Petty - Breakdown

The Sex Pistols aren't the only ones.... Another vivid filmed moment occured on this date in 1977 - 31 years ago. The amazing Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played the Whisky A Go Go for two nights, and each night had a real camera crew (I mean FILM cameras - the real motion picture deal with LIGHTS and everything) shooting their performance. At the beginning of the rise of LA's punk rock movement, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' vital twist on the classic pure rock n roll thing won them a place in the hearts of all the locals whose hearts were otherwise in the gutter with punk. Twenty years after that Whisky A Go Go show, I am pleased to report that the footage Tom Petty & Co took upon themselves to shoot ended up in a documentary I produced for VH1 (called God Bless Our Mobile Home, part of the VH1 to One series which I produced. The episode was nominated for a Cable Ace Award. We had to compete against ourselves in that category, effectively negating ourselves from winning. Oh well). Yes... the Petty camp has a comprehensive vault of everything the band has ever done... captured on film and tape.

He's not the only one who does that though -- he's just the most organized (and for that we must thank Mary Klauzer) of musicians I've ever seen. U2 is all about the filming.... and so many other (lesser known) bands just keep the film and tape rolling. If you can afford to do so, its a wonderful thing to do. Back in the 60s, a little quartet called The Beatles made a few ventures into film, the last of which was Let It Be, a documentary of a band imploding... but not without some intimate and unique presentations of music being made as a band starts to break apart. The clever, witty, and most sincere, true punk rocker for all time, Billy Bragg was instrumental in the making-of documentary of the album that the Woody Guthrie heirs, namely daughter Nora bequeathed to Billy when she presented him with Woody's lyric sheets of music not yet recorded. Man in the Sand is a film I'm proud to say I saw get conceived, gestated and born by the efforts of Billy, his wife and his manager, and a group less known back then than they are now: Wilco.

Clash comrade Don Letts was able to rely on footage shot by old pals and television programs alike when he made Punk Attitude.

And while we are on the topic of punk attitude.... Hail Hail Rock n Roll the documentary of how Keith Richards tried to put together a crack kick ass band for his idol, Chuck Berry is one of the most interesting and painful bits of documentary to ever wrap itself around a concert film.
Thank director Taylor Hackford (Mr. Helen Mirren to you, and the guy who directed An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray and Dolores Claiborne among others; dude's from my home town, too) and of course Keith Richards for trying and achieving the impossible.

chuck and keith

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