D.O.A. (Don't-Overlook-Any-of-It)

Here is an early review of Lech Kowalski's documentary film "DOA: A Right of Passage", as printed in the May/June 1980 issue of FFanzeen.

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-off's in the fashion, art, and political world is both important and inconsequential, and tells a story about the seventies, 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 Brothers Records, who sneers and mentions, "You know, we are not a non-profit organisation!"

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 on punk. Not the 'punk' I grew up with. Hopefully, you too were spared. Because it's ugly and disturbing and when I first 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 are 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 of 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 of a band kidding around in an old, garage-like converted studio, and they begin to belt out a tune as if their lives depended 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 perform 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's 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 travelled extensively with a crew numbering from four to thirty, and the footage shot of the Sex Pistols' tour of 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?


REVIEWER:
Lisa Baumgardner

THANKS:
Robert Barry Francos