Book Review: Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide To Punks On Film

“I think people, once you put a camera on them, they just can’t help but say some stupid shit.” -Ian MacKay

A movie guide should make you want to watch movies, and none has ever made me want to watch as many as “Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film”. Spawned by a late night viewing of Penelope Spheeris’ classic “Suburbia”, and edited by Austin (by way of the Pacific Northwest) film heads Zach Carlson and Bryan Connolly, “DAM” is an exhaustive compilation of almost every punk rock film ever made.

Hollywood’s interpretation of punk and punks usually involves some sort of marauding gang of wayward youth wreaking havoc on the good, normal folks of society at large, like in “Class of 1984”. In these trashy, exploitation scenarios punks are a force of evil that must be destroyed in order to preserve all that is decent and respectable in the world. On the other hand are films like the aforementioned “Suburbia”, where punks are treated with dignity and respect, like human beings rather than monstrous caricatures.

“Destroy All Movies!!!” explores the entire range of punk cinema. Equal time is given to the chaotic and tasteless films that only want to sensationalize a largely misunderstood subculture, as to those that seek to understand and humanize that same much-maligned segment of the population. Included are documentaries about punk, fictional narratives where punks play prominent roles, and films where punk is no more present than a brightly colored mohawk visible in a crowd scene.

Inside you’ll find movies that you’re familiar with, like “Repo Man”, “Trainspotting”, and “The Decline of Western Civilization”. Along side of those you’ll find others that you’ve never heard of, and probably couldn’t find if you looked. Films like “Shredder Orpheus”, a musical skate-punk retelling of “Orpheus & Euridice”, and “Banned”, where punk is tantamount to demonic possession. When Carlson attempted to interview Roberta Findley, the director of “Banned”, who never made another movie, she hung up on him.

In addition to being wildly informative, the writing is entertaining as all hell. All of the contributors are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their topic. This is the kind of book that you’ll keep on your coffee table and pick up for a few minutes here and there, and every time you do, you’ll find something amazing. In the “Fight Club” entry there is a line about the “switcheroo plot twist that’s only believable if you were born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.” Brilliant.

“DAM” is much more than just a list of movies, it is a festival of bizarre, fantastic cinema. The main body of the text is bookended by collections of color photos and images that you won’t find anywhere else. In addition to those, the editors conducted tons of interviews with the people who made these films, which are spread throughout the book. This includes interviews with musicians like Ian MacKaye, Keith Morris, and Exene Cervenka, who appeared in punk documentaries; musicians like John Doe and Lee Ving, who also developed acting careers; actors like John Gries and Clint Howard, who appeared in punk movies; and filmmakers and behind the scenes folks, like directors Alex Cox and Mark Lester, writer Jennifer Schwartz, and Janet Cunningham, a casting agent who specialized in providing authentic punk rock extras.

“Destroy All Movies!!!” is as hyperactive, eclectic, and punk rock as the films it commemorates. It mimics the frenetic, non-stop energy of films like “Joysticks”. But even as spastic and irreverent as it can be, this is also a serious, respectful examination of an overlooked piece of film culture. To quote Carlson from the introduction, “This book celebrates great accomplishments, terrible insults, and the people responsible for both.” Celebration is certainly an apt description.

BUY THIS BOOK. You won’t regret it. Richard Hell nails it in his introduction:

“The world is not really worthy of this book, and if you don’t buy it now, you will regret it later when it’s a lot more expensive.”

Go to the official website.

Buy “Destroy All Movies!!!” direct from Fantagraphics.