The death of punk -- or any musical genre simultaneously beloved or hated, in quiescence or full flower -- is among the most overdiagnosed of ailments, particularly of the terminal variety. In Punk's Not Dead, University of Wisconsin graduate Susan Dynner distills the lifeblood of the music and the people who both create and consume it into an elixir that's as aggressively drawn from the DIY spirit as its inspiration.
Dynner has long been immersed in the world of punk, diving headfirst with a camera into the D.C. punk and hardcore scene of the 1980s. She rapidly became a prolific photographer, shooting punk legends like Black Flag, Minor Threat, The Exploited and the Circle Jerks by the age of 15, her work making its way into album art, zines, and t-shirts before she made her way to the University of Wisconsin for film school.
Working for years in independent film production, Dynner has long remained connected to the music and the continuing waves of bands old and new that continue to define it. Inspired by an ad campaign in 2003 that utilized a quarter-century of punk, she returned to her albums filled with thousands of photos, and thus begat the documentary. Here is the official festival description of the film:
Thirty years after the Ramones and the Sex Pistols shocked the system with their hard, fast, status-quo-killing rock, the longest lasting punk band in history is drawing bigger crowds than ever, "pop-punk" bands have found success on MTV, and kids too young to drive are forming bands that carry the torch for punk's raw, immediate sound. Meanwhile, "punk" has become a marketing concept to sell everything from cars to vodka, and dyed hair and piercings still mark a rite of passage for thousands of teens. Can the true, nonconformist punk spirit still live on in today's culture? UW grad and filmmaker Susan Dynner brings us the answer, in the form of this rambunctious and smartly edited film, with interviews, performances, and behind-the-scenes journeys with the bands, labels, underground press, and the fans who keep punk alive. Who's in the film? The list is insanely long: The Germs, Rancid, Black Flag, The UK Subs, The Offspring, more, more, dozens more.
Punk's Not Dead is the latest of several documentaries created this decade that use the music and its culture as the springboard of their stories. The Filth and the Fury (2000) and End of the Century (2003) tell the stories of the canonical founding fathers of the sound, the Sex Pistols and the Ramones, respectively. American Hardcore, meanwhile, looks at the birth and formative years of the titular genre, while We Jam Econo tells the story of The Minutemen. As emphasized by Dynner, though, her film is less about the 30 year history of punk and more about the state of the scene circa this decade, taking the concept behind music documentary classic The Decline of Western Civilization and casting a nationwide net.
Punk's Not Dead made its world premiere at the AFI/Discover Channel SilverDocs festival in June 2006. A final version was just recently completed in the second week of March, the documentary is taking a springtime tour of film festivals around the country, with stops in Cleveland and Dallas before making its way to Madison for a Saturday night screening at the Bartell Theater. A teaser trailer for Punk's Not Dead follows.