American Hardcore (2006) Poster

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Accurate Reflection of the Hardcore Punk's Urban Mainstream
mstomaso2 February 2008
Nice and nostalgic for those who were there.

Potentially misleading and perhaps too long for those who were not there and don't get the nostalgia.

My comments are more of a reaction than a review.

I won't pretend to be objective. I lived through this and experienced it differently from the 'leading lights' who were interviewed in the film. I met and even hung out with a few of the folks in the film over the three years (1980-1982) when I was in and out of NYC and Philly scenes. Of course, hardcore had not yet been commercialized at this time and none of them were regarded as legends. It's great to see that most of them are still true believers and haven't developed regrets, but it's really odd that they are still saying exactly the same things about HC that they were saying twenty years ago. Isn't hindsight supposed to be 20/20 or something? Well... really... it's all a matter of perspective, and that's the point of this review.

From 1979 to 1984 I was a member of a band which crossed over from punk to hardcore in 1980. I began with them at the age of 14 and stuck around until, as Ian Mackaye put it, "hardcore checked out". Being part of the NJ/NYC punk community, and having grown up in a small rural town in central Jersey, my perspective on the whole business is a bit different.... But, again... that's the point, isn't it?

From my point of view, the film has one major flaw - Most of the interviews seem to have developed out of a set of basic misconceptions: (1) that hardcore was about something in particular, (2) that the leaders of the most popular hardcore bands were somehow experts in what hardcore was and (3) that the portion of the country where hardcore got the most early media attention was somehow more important than the rest of the world.

I was never a big fan of hardcore's regionalism (which was a big deal in the scenes I was involved with) and was interested mainly in bands which were original, energetic and fun regardless of where they came from. Sadly, the east coast frequently exhibited symptoms of an inferiority complex because of the commercial and media attention California got - a couple of examples are the titles of early eastern Punk and HC compilations:

Philadelphia: Get Off Our Backs We're Doing it Too. NYC: New York Thrash and The Big Apple Rotten to the Core Boston: This is Boston, Not L.A.

Telling, ain't it?

Because of my own experiences, the interviews of NYC, Washington DC and Boston band members resonated more strongly with me than the California-centered stuff. Don't get me wrong, I loved the DKs, Black Flag, the CJs, Fear, X, UXA, The Avengers, and many other West-coasters, but I still reject the adoption of the archetype American Punk lifestyle which was drawn out of stereotypes imported by the mass media from California.

From my perspective, punk was truly anti-conformist, and CoC's comments about the fascist anti-fascism that became a major component of HC late in it's life were dead-on accurate. It's as if a whole bunch of fools turned on Quincy, saw an inaccurate representation of slam dancing based on things that were happening in particular parts of Southern California (where Quincy was filmed) and all-of-a-sudden decided to get mohawks and leather jackets and go beat up people at shows.

Maybe New York police have bigger and better things to do, but I do not remember a single of the 100s of shows I went to or played which were ever even threatened with a shut-down, let alone attracting the attention of more than a few squad cars. And honestly, I don't remember any NYC or Philly cops doing anything much worse than shaking their heads and rolling their eyes during these incidents. Maybe NYC punks were radically different from Calpunks, because I knew very few people in HC and/or punk who would ever espouse hating any group of people in a broad-brush manner such as police and hippies.

For me and most of my friends HC was a chance to have fun, get up on stage and play, help other people have fun, and to express ourselves socially and politically with an audience which could relate and appreciated pretty much whatever you threw at them. Most of the messages were against violence, against stereotyping, against injustice, and even against drugs. And the bands all supported each other, whether or not they agreed about politics, music or whatever. Really nice. Sure the dancing got kind of rough at times, but it only got really bad after that fateful episode of Quincy.

This is a good film. I was very excited to see the respect with which the Bad Brains were treated and the range of excellent bands chosen for the interviews. The film is really just a lengthy series of edited monologues and dialogs from interviews conducted by the director. The cinematography is straightforward and really nothing special - fine for what was intended. There are relatively few musical interludes (mostly poorly filmed cam-jobs), and no complete songs.

The film serves well as a memoir for old punks like myself, and a good introduction to the major tropes and official mythology of the hardcore movement for those of later generations. Don't mistake the generalizing opinions of the interviewees (or mine for that matter) to be representative of anything besides the individual opinions that they are, however. And remember always - no matter what anybody says about hardcore, Gang Green summed it all up better than anybody in their song "Have Fun"

We just wanna have some fun

We just wanna have some fun

While we're young enough

To get away with it.

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awesome footage, incomplete story
tyroneyo9 October 2006
OK, As you would expect the footage of the bands in their prime is absolutely incredible... made me want to stage dive in the theater. the interviews of some of hardcore's icons lived up to my expectations - Keith morris, Ian Mackaye and Henry Rollins always have memorable sound bites - but the director also made sure to include lesser known "musicians" like the dudes from heart attack, die Kreuzen and death piggy. HOWEVER, my biggest complaint was the lack of a fully descriptive storyline and the exclusion of "non-thrash" hardcore bands As with most punk documentaries the opening setting really drew me in by explaining the social, cultural and political backdrop that spawned the scene. Surprisingly, there is almost no footage of the 77-80 punk rock influences that shaped Ramones or pistols or even fear or the germs and other just Pre-hardcore bands. it jumps right into the thrash full throttle, but unfortunately tries to let said footage carry the documentary, which it does not always do.

Again, as with most punk documentaries, this one struggles to end. it builds up the scene, describes some of the regional tribes - affording WAY too much time to Boston and really skimping on Texas and the entire Midwest - and then realizes it's got to end somehow. The movie is a real jumble. It doesn't get into the "kids" that much (i can't think of any regular "fans" who were interviewed. everyone was either in a band or ran a label or was the girlfriend of a major player.) and does not detail just what kind of people were attracted to hardcore outside of the generic explanation of "angry outcasts" from the suburbs. (like what's the difference between a Misfits fan and your run of the mill Iron Maiden fan.) It doesn't really timeline the rise, peak and decline of the era. the interviewees just say how awesome and crazy and new it was, dude, the Bad Brains rule, and then Ian Mackaye realizes fighting is "uncool" (although fighting was totally awesome in '81) and then DYS and SSD really start to suck and it's all over by '86. Excessive intra-scene violence is mentioned, but except for Rollins pummeling a dude in a separate scene - no fighting footage is shown (there's got to be TONS of fight footage!). no mention of big labels coming in and trying to commodify the scene and no reference to metal bands incorporating hardcore beats to create thrash metal or how many of the HC participants led the college rock/indie movement of the late 80s into the 90s alternative explosion (although i'm glad they didn't end the film with Nirvana & Green Day). i realize the documentary is about HC, but the scene didn't just end, the music and the people just changed form. (on a side note, anyone involved in the hardcore scene after '86 will once again be frustrated by the blanket statement that the scene just ended one day and not the more sensible opinion that a new generation of kids have continually created new and different waves of HC scenes through the years...even if the newer scenes weren't as good it's a real slap in the face to suggest bands like YoT, Citizens Arrest, Integrity, Los Crudos, Tragedy and many more are not HC....MRR still publishes for Christsakes).

This leads me to my second point that the range of bands covered - except for flipper and the Nig heist - were only awesome thrash bands. (yes, i know it's a strange complaint.) no reference to husker Du or the Butthole surfers and how those bands pushed the musical boundaries of HC or footage of some funky big boys or minutemen songs which would spotlight how bands like the chili peppers/faith no more would tweak the HC sound and successfully sell it to millions. i know you can't show every band from the era, but if you added the aforementioned bands and subtracted some (admittedly Slammin') YDI and Scream footage it may have shown the broader impact of that original HC scene. i should note that a couple obvious bands had to be omitted for legal reasons and a couple of your favorites were probably cut out in editing... mine being the Descendents, red cross, naked Raygun, AOD and GG Allin and the jabbers. i really don't know how to end this review... the archival footage is amazing and i'm glad this era of punk rock has finally been given the documentary treatment, but if you're not a crazy hardcore punk fan such as myself, you may get kinda bored after 45 minutes...just ask my girlfriend.
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A Good Time Capsule of the Eighties Hardcore Movement but...
feastorafamine22 September 2006
Fans of this short window in time of musical history will surely enjoy it for its nostalgic merit alone. The footage is raw and accurately depicts the dingy and often violent world of Post "Germs, Sex Pistols" and Pre-metal years of hardcore. Many important bands of that era were not depicted in the film for various legal reasons IE: The Dead Kennedy's, and The Misfits, but the variety of bands presented is a noble effort. Surprising to me was what I considered a LACK of music in the film, as most of it came in the form of the final ten seconds of a songs performance, then cutting into the next scene. The film IS about music so it's not like there isn't any, however I would have enjoyed more extended live footage. My harshest criticism of the film is that it simply shrinks away as to the real explanation of how this movement really came to an end. While it glorifies many great bands that created some extremely potent and visceral music, it ultimately brushed aside why the hardcore scene seemed to sputter and almost vanish. The film near its summation briefly touches upon the influence of heavy metal and how some bands evolved into that new sound. They seem to suggest that the "atmosphere" had changed but in reality the bands changed. Kids showed up a year later and all their favorite bands had grown long hair and seemed to be interested little in their hardcore roots. Sad but true.. but this was a genre praised for its dedication to "Doing It Yourself" but in the end they chose to find a way to pay the bills instead. I have never faulted bands for deciding they wanted to eat more than a package of Dorrito's in the back of a tour van, and I do not view metal as a lesser form of art, but the fact remains that the bands create the music, which in turn produces an environment. I was all too happy to indulge in the personal trip down memory lane, but I would have liked a more probing response as to its demise. I have to review this film positively because I am biased as to the musical content and to the time in which it represents, but to omit that money and industry influence is what truly ruined this scene,(As in most others due to over exposure, parody and more seemingly lucrative musical paths) is a strange and unsatisfying oversight. Having just praised its unyielding, anti-conformist roots I was then expected to forget it ever happened. As I stated all in all it's an absorbing film and a greatly accurate depiction of a highly influential point in the musical landscape. It should be viewed if for no other reason than its tribute to the contribution that American Hardcore had to musical history.
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Watching someone else's nostalgia...
I_saw_it_happen19 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
If I knew absolutely nothing about HC, then this would be a good film to get me interested. As a documentary on the history of HC, it certainly does leave out some seminal bands, and while certainly not everyone's favorite band could have been included, some certainly should have. In many ways, the work is incomplete. The lack of documentation and definition which plagued the whole HC scene becomes a legacy that carries the film. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether you were part of the scene or not, I guess (I wasn't).

As a companion piece to 'The Decline of Western Civilization', HC shows an interesting Historiography. The indifference to society shown in TDoWC is re-defined as a passionate desire to reject society. And certainly, both elements were always at work in any punk scene, just as they are today, and have been in any musical scene, or artistic movement, for that matter.

What is truly problematic about American Hardcore, and why I only gave it a 6 rather than a 7 or an 8, is that it dismisses the musical legacy of HC. Because HC influenced genres far outside of punk, and this isn't really covered. And the dismissal of modern punk bands by older punks is disheartening and antithetic to a punk ethic. If these bands had been dismissed simply because they dressed weird or they didn't have the best equipment to play on, then nobody would have bothered to see past that and hear their message, which was meaningful. It's equally shallow to dismiss what message a modern punk band might have simply because they dress different and have nicer equipment. The DIY ethic is thriving, and this isn't reflected in AHC. Yes, it was harder to be DIY a long time ago, maybe, but does that mean the end product is any less meaningful? Current punk bands only have what their predecessors left them to build upon. By refusing to let that legacy trade hands, some of the older punk bands have done a disservice to all that which they fought so hard to establish. There are plenty exceptions, fortunately, although the impression AHC leaves you with is that AHC was all about the expression of particular individuals, rather than a particular element in society which is always historically present. I'd say art gains importance socially when it's important to an audience, not the artist. Punk is still important to people, and didn't 'stop' in the mid 80's. It mutated. It expanded. It did what punk music urges everyone to do--- Survive no matter what tries to bring you down.

HC survived without those who left it. By denying this, AHC denies that HC was more than a passing fad.

Still, with that narrow focus and cruddy ending aside, it's a good documentary, and worth watching.
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An excellent overview of American hardcore 1980-1986!
peter-padron26 March 2006
Just came out of a preview screening of this fine film here at the Natfilm festival in Copenhagen, Denmark! In short, 'American Hardcore' lives up to the expectations: Made in a D.I.Y. fashion befitting its' subject, it gives you an excellent overview of the first wave of American hardcore music, nicely balancing the violence that characterized the early days with the positive message that came out of it.

You'll get to see lots and lots of never-seen-before amateur footage from (really) early hardcore shows, interwoven with many, many, many excellent interviews with key figures from the scene.

Fact is, the filmmakers have managed to dig up pretty much everybody who was a nobody back in the day: Where one could have expected a long line of New York art critics, psychologists, social anthropologists and the like yakitiyaking away about form and substance, with perhaps a single Henry Rollins getting to represent the "hardcore punk subculture" as a whole, instead what you get is a literal who's-who of early American hardcore: You've got your Gang Green and your Circle Jerks, your SS Decontrol and your Jerry's Kids, your Negative F/X and your Cro-Mags, and so on and so forth.

On a side-note, some personal favorites will inevitably be missing from any such line-up -- yours truly specially misses Choke from Slapshot, Billy Milano from S.O.D., and Paul Bearer from Sheer Terror -- but that goes with the territory.

A bigger fault, perhaps, lies in the radically negative view one gets of what happened next. Towards the end of the film you're bombarded with clip after clip of hardcore veterans telling you that after '86, it was all over. Granted, what happened next falls outside of the framework of this movie (it specifically deals only with the years 1980-1986) and to make it sound like if it all actually ended in '86 makes for good drama -- but of course in fact it just isn't true.

In '88 you had the Gorilla Biscuits, Youth Of Today, Bold, Judge, and so on and so forth, and during the 90's, well, the thing kinda went on and on, evolving or degenerating depending on how you see things. In the eyes of purists perhaps what came after '86 doesn't count -- but if so, it would have been nice to hear something said about it, to hear these guys explain what it is about, say, Integrity or Floorpunch or Catharsis or His Hero Is Gone or Good Clean Fun that makes them so decidedly un-hardcore.

But why whine about such wee little things? All in all, the film is an excellent piece of documentary about the finest underground movement in music anywhere in the world between Roky Erickson came out of the asylum in the 70's and the churches burned in Norway in the 90's!
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A rather selective overview of the Punk scene
Tecun_Uman17 November 2006
Growing up in the early 1980s in one of the punk hot spots (Austin), I just had to see this film the first day it was out. I can remember like yesterday seeing the Big Boys, the Dicks, DK and Black Flag at Club Foot, the punk venue. It was a great and unique time. I have aged, but still consider myself a punk at heart. However, I was rather letdown by this film. It seems like the guy wanted to make this definitive documentary over the punk scene in the early '80s, but half the people he asked to interview turned him down. The most glaring flaw with this film is the omission of the Dead Kennedys. Yes, Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were huge during that time, but NOBODY came close to rivaling DK, they were it. Yet, there is nothing in the film about them, nothing. Fear is also ignored and so many other greats are just barely touched on. Yet, we get a ton of stuff on the Cro Mags and TSOL? Look, I know that a documentary filmmaker can only use the sources available to him, but it seems that the sources that were available to him (minus Henry Rollins and Keith Morris) were rather small in comparison to other giants like Jello Biafra and Lee Ving. Moreover, there was not enough music in the film. It opens with a nice Bad Brains' cut and montage and then they kind of go away from anymore montages. As someone that experienced the scene firsthand, I just kind of felt it was a rather thin and sloppy look at a very interesting time. Moreover, they drop Husker Du's name a lot, but then never explore anything about them. The guy could have made a better documentary, a much better one. And he could have shown how the punk scene influenced the creation of future bands like Social Distortion, the Replacments, etc.. And how about a shout-out to the freaking Ramones!?
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Completely Awesome !
KRB-322 September 2006
You would go out at night with a friend or two, look for some no name building where you would see a couple of punks hanging outside, go inside, pay your $6.00 and walk through a door or a small hallway, go down the stairs and feel the heat & smell the sweat, and then the assault of noise would fill the "club". In L.A. it could be the Cathy De Grand with D.R.I. or the Circle Jerks at the Sunset Ballroom with Youth Brigade, or, well it didn't matter who you went to see, you just had to get there and be a part of it. It was 90 MPH music coming at you with every possible watt there was. It was Loud,Fast, and Relentelss. That is Hardcore punk rock. When the bands were done, you gathered yourself, took a deep breath, looked yourself over to make sure you were all there, and you walked outside to get some fresh air. You survived another show. As the cars drove past, you laughed at yourself thinking, No one know's what just went on inside here. Well, This movie lets you inside. It's the real deal. When I watched some of the videos of the bands playing, I could not help myself from belting out some of the words from these great songs. This is American Hardcore the way I remember it. Great job on telling this story.
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Muddled Albeit Heartfelt
Mike White15 September 2006
Too young for hardcore and too young for grunge, I had to learn about most of the bands in Paul Rachman's documentary American HARDCORE after their demise or during their declining years. The emptiest screening I attended at the festival, Rachman covers the oft-overlooked hardcore music scene of the early 1980s via a montage of maps, concert footage, and talking head interviews. Feeling like it was edited with a food processor, American HARDCORE does a fair job of cracking the lid on the hardcore scene but doesn't come close to presenting the material in any kind of cohesive way.

While the footage and photos of these myriad classic bands are fun to see (and the music is a blast), the film's narrative thrust is a muddled mess and some bands are conspicuously missing (old cliques die hard?). Hopefully a soundtrack will come from this.
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Somewhat of a disappointment
philler227 May 2007
I remember reading a review of American Hardcore in one of the weeklies in Portland. It stated something to the extent that if you know hardcore, you will not learn anything and if you know nothing about hardcore, you won't learn much. I can't agree more.

As someone that has a fair amount of knowledge of the history of the American Hardcore movement, I don't feel like I learned much new about hardcore. And, I have talked to others that know little about hardcore and they had a hard time tracking.

I was also surprised about some of the things that were missing. How could Maximum Rock n' Roll be left out? Maybe the Dead Kennedys were left out because of all the legal stuff going on with them now or maybe because a lot of old punks don't like them now. I know there is only so much room and info someone can squeeze into two hours, but it is hard to see how certain things were left out of it.

I think it was a good attempt. The director should have made a better decision and either make it a movie for someone that knew nothing or a movie for the more advanced viewer. Still, if you are a fan of hardcore or you are perhaps a younger viewer that has some interest in the hardcore punk movement of the early 80's, it is worth renting.
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Limited View of the Scene
sean-84330 September 2006
I was in the scene. I took photos at shows. Did stage dives. Hung outside of too many clubs (and crashed the doors of others). Had green hair, no hair, and then blue hair.

Am-HC was a let down. It leads the audience into thinking the scene started in 1980 and then end in 1985 (LA punk HC scene stared much earlier with the Germ, Screamers, etc.).

It white washes the whole LA scene, and makes it look like the mid-west or nyc was actually influential on what was happening in HC (maybe DC, but LA was fully in the driving seat). It doesn't talk about the Huntington Beach punks that started this part of the HC at and around the Fleatwood in Redondo Beach. Overlooked and neglects to explore a lot what was happening in other areas (the Valley's, Hollywood, San Pedro, etc.) Missing link of too many headlining bands at the time: Vandals, 45 Grave, Dead Kennedy's (what's with this missing), Wasted Youth (billed, but nothing), Bad Religion, Suicidal Tendencies (first LA punk band to sell more the 500,000 album copies), etc. To many talking heads (and nodding heads), and awful footage.

From a person that was in the scene, this doc seemed to be made by someone that never went to a gig until 2000 -- and researched everything in the LA Weekly. Dude, Flipside was covering the scene better then the LA Weekly knew how -- a little research would've revealed that.

Overall. If you do see this film, made sure you go back and rent The Decline of the Western Civilization. At least you can see "real footage" and true gritty interviews of the scene.

I gave it a 3 for the kindness to my peps.
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