Instrument (2003) Poster


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A True Jem
smorgan115 April 2003
As we ever simplify the English language, suspected to be due to the acceptance of mobile phones and SMS messaging in our daily lives and the ever-increasing popularity of television for idiots, it's interesting to see how the meaning of certain words have changed during this period. For example, when I say the word 'mobile', do you think of a spinning decoration hanging above a baby's cot or a brain cooker? When I say 'hoover' or 'tannoy', do you correct me for associating a manufacturer with a device? I know that this is well tread territory with regards to observational literature, but one word that's meaning has completely changed but doesn't get enough press is 'punk'.

What's the first artist that comes to mind when I say the word 'punk'? Green Day? Avril Lavigne? Sum 41? Just what is 'punk' anyway? It's a term that's referenced so often in discussion, people assume their knowledge of the word based on an analysis of where it's used. When you walk into your local music store, with the music nicely arranged into different genres and sub-genres, you'll usually find a 'rock, metal, grunge and punk' section, or something along those lines, yet punk doesn't necessarily have to fit into that category at all.

Punk is not a genre of music. Punk is a lifestyle. Most people have heard of the term 'selling out', but for those who haven't, this is a derogatory term used to refer to an artist / group who have gone against their own moral standards purely for financial gain. Punk is doing it for yourself. Punk is never selling out. Punk is a community of bands helping each other out, touring together with a strong work ethic. The association with the music we know as punk today comes from the style of music the bands in the original movement played back in the seventies. Bands like The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Dictators, Patti Smith... An ever-growing underground scene was born with bands promoting, booking, travelling to their own shows, recording, pressing and distributing their own records etc. As time went on, the underground of punk was becoming so popular that those in the mainstream were forced to sit up and take notice. Seeing bands making it on their own, with no interest in profit was bad news to record industry executives. The way they dealt with this was by offering most of these artists big deal contracts they couldn't refuse. Life on the road wasn't easy and a lot of these bands were getting old by this point. Most bands took the contracts or had already split up by then. It was the beginning of the end. Over the years, the scene and the name took on a whole new meaning. Corporate sponsorships, censorship, manufactured bands... I guess you could compare calling Avril Lavigne punk to calling a monotonous channel four television show Big Brother.

Not many bands kept the old scene alive, it seemed the corporates had won, but one of the few bands to survive were the still-together, critically acclaimed Fugazi. Built from the ashes of Minor Threat (a very famous band from the eighties punk scene) and Happy-Go-Licky, arose Fugazi, these days known as 'The Last True Punks'. A band with such an interesting career that they made a film about it! How many million-record-selling, highly influential bands do you know who still pack up their own equipment, play countless benefit shows, release their music on their own label, print "Expect to pay no more than $8" on the cover to each CD they release, never have a set-list when they play and most importantly, live up to their own morals (ahem, Bono, ahem)? There are still a few, but none quite on the scale of Fugazi.

This documentary film spans their entire career, from day one when Guy Picciotto was just a rabid dancer / backing singer in the band through the popularity of their first few albums (the hardcore days), through the direction change of Red Medicine, all the way to the writing of the soundtrack for their own film! Every step of their career is filled with mounds of video footage. An unique anomaly that can be put down to the fact that Jem Cohen is in fact the band's friend from school who has been filming them since day one on Super 8mm as an avid fan. Everything from the actual recording of parts from Red Medicine to a prisoner taking over the drum-kit in an American correctional facility gig is caught on camera here.

Interestingly a lot of the live footage on this video doesn't contain the original soundtrack from it, with other tracks super imposed over slow speed artistic video footage. The DVD contains a lot of interview footage from over the years, including the very comical school TV interview conducted by some 13 year old, yet even in those early days, Guy and Ian come across as no-bullshit, intelligent people. The controversial footage of interviews with 'fans' in a parking lot makes for amusing viewing too, with most of the 'fans' either telling Jem how the band have sold out, or how their 'no slam-dancing' policy at shows is bull-shit etc. According to Ian Mackaye, that footage was left in purely to show an accurate cross-section of the band's fans. No matter what a band is like, they're always going to attract dickhead fans as well as those more open-minded.

Although by the end two hours of this footage starts to drag on a bit (I recommend watching it in two sittings), I definitely recommend anyone in a band to watch this DVD as a lesson. Fugazi aren't necessarily doing things the 'right' way, but the way they've achieved their status is an admirable feat alone that shouldn't be ignored by others. At no point do Fugazi belittle other bands for not sharing their morals, they just leave the corporate road to others.

"Never mind what you're selling, it's what you're buying" - Blueprint
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jugophon14 April 2000
An amazing documentary chronicling an amazing band. I hope that fifty years from now, this film is used as reference in a musical and even a sociological sense. Color and b+w both fit well here. The music is arresting and intense, the imagery fits the music and the pace. Anyone who likes well made documentaries should see this. Throughout the film, there are quick sketches of people in line that coincide with pieces of music. This is my favorite part. This might be hard to find, but keep an eye out for it.
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Fugazi, the most brilliant medley of musicians...
Sparklees37 July 2001
Excellent cinematography is displayed in the film-Cohen utilizes various types of film, from super 8 to 16mm. Fugazi, being the greatest medley of musicians to emerge from the DC area, is depicted on screen in an 115 minute documentary. The video includes really neat live footage, as well as some bonus material. What's not to enjoy?
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peter_olsson_114 September 2003
This may not seem like a documentary, but an art-movie at first, but actually it's more of a road-movie, compared to the standard Rock 'n' Roll documentaries

like Gimme Shelter, for example. The fragmentaric look may be hard for some

people to cope with, but actually it only cuts to the essence in my opinion, like Lars von Trier. I like this movie, but would like some scenes a little bit longer and some a lot shorter, but how could I say that to the director? Anyway, I like this movie for it's vivid, experimental tone, and naturally I like Fugazi, otherwise I don't think this is where one should start. When Guy Picciotto hangs

upsidedown from the basket case and sings I can't explain what I feel. Is it love? To bad that Fugazi is going to split up soon.
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sukara3 August 2000
This documentary is something of a pinnacle for Fugazi and Jem Cohen. Cohen has long been artistically involved with Fugazi, and now he has pieced together this documentary. The film jumps around and swirls with the music, getting more choppy and spacey as the band itself becomes more experimental. It is as if the film is evolving with the subject. At times, Instrument can be a long haul, but it is well worth it.
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Moderately interesting vanity picture
John Seal21 September 2000
I've known of Fugazi by reputation since they first arrived on the hardcore scene but until seeing this film had never actually heard them. For fans of the band this will probably be a must see, but for the rest of us it's a decidedly mixed bag. At their best, Fugazi sound like a mixture of Sonic Youth, early Gang of Four, and Alternative TV. Most of the time, however, they deliver a rather leaden and humourless avant-punk that may have served as the prototype for every sports metal band from Rage Against the Machine to Papa Roach. While I greatly admire the band for taking control of their destiny, I think Instrument highlights many of the internal contradictions in their master plan. The film is little more than the kind of self-congratulatory puff piece that the band would probably be disgusted with under different circumstances. The only voices of dissent are a few punks interviewed towards the end of the film who don't like the band's attitude towards dancing, or think their music has lost its edge. Otherwise, it's two solid hours of fractured concert footage, fractured studio footage, and fractured interview footage. We don't get any idea of where the band came from and we barely get a look into the personal lives of the group members. Fugazi--The Grateful Dead of the hardcore generation? That may be too harsh a judgement, but their longevity, commitment to worthy but generally lost causes, and general lack of tunefulness certainly provides parallels with the horrible hairy hippies of the Haight. Final analysis: I like everything about this band except their music and their movie. Really. I'm glad they care about their audience, and I think it's great that someone can go and see them perform without feeling ripped off by Ticketmaster or getting immersed in corporate sponsorships. And I'd sooner listen to them than the foul Rage Against the Machine.
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