Dir. Susanne Tabata (2011, Canada, 75 mins.)
When I was in high school, there were two types of punks. One type shopped at Hot Topic, listened to Good Charlotte, and tended to be chauffeured around by moms in mini-vans. The other type wore leather jackets lifted from thrift stores, listened to Black Flag, and were out to terrify the first type.
Bloodied but Unbowed, a documentary about the Vancouver punk scene in the late 70’s, is a film for the second group of punks, and more broadly for anyone who associates punk rock with sweat, spit, blood, and beer. Appropriately enough, when I sat down to talk about the film with director Susanne Tabata and musicians Randy Rampage and Keith Morris, it was over pints of lager at Toronto’s infamous Horseshoe Tavern.
This is the first thing I told Rampage: Bloodied but Unbowed is a great film. The second thing is something of a confession: I dislike most music documentaries. For everything cool like The Fearless Freaks and Gimmie Shelter, there are ten to twenty boring, self-indulgent, day-in-the-life-of-band-X hagiographies. I don’t even bother reviewing most of them – I’d end up spending too much time writing “ . . . for fans only.”
Rampage gets it. “We didn’t want this film to be about just one or two bands – Vancouver had a whole scene, dozens and dozens of kids making music. We were calling old friends, seeing who had what, you know, just digging up all the footage we could find. We had to cut a lot of it down, but there’s some good stuff that might end up on the DVD or the website.”
Rampage is being modest. The sheer scope of Bloodied but Unbowed sets it apart from lesser music documentaries. It moves at a swift clip set to a sick soundtrack and doesn’t focus too much on any one band or person. For every minute of footage, we hear from at least five people – sometimes more. Tabata interviewed a couple dozen musicians from the scene, along with other interested parties (including Duff McKagan, Jello Biafra, Bob Rock, Joey Shithead, and of course Rampage and Morris themselves) and put together a staggering amount of footage from the era.
“The artists in Vancouver were all over the punk scene,” Tabata explains. “And they were experimenting with film at the time. They were filming the scene, but they were part of the scene too.”
This is the thing we keep returning to: the scene. More than anything, Bloodied but Unbowed is about a moment in music. Its success in describing a time and feeling so viscerally is enviable. Frankly, I hope that this film builds a cult following of its own.
– Dave Robson
Susanne Tabata: You’ve got to realize, this was before the Internet and digital recording. You’d have kids recording and trading tapes, and that’s how bands would get popular. Lots of word of mouth and trading music.
Keith Morris: If we’d had Internet back then, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at the bar. We’d be in the penthouse suite of a hotel.
Randy Rampage: With butlers and bottle service!
Keith Morris: Wearing top hats!
Keith Morris: This is all you need for a scene: a group of people, loving and playing music, and that’s it. Fuck everything else. You don’t need a label. Record yourself. You don’t need a stage to have a gig. Play in some kid’s backyard!
Susanne Tabata: I should say something about Toronto. The [punk] bands in Vancouver played up and down the West Coast. They went from Vancouver to Seattle to Los Angeles. Toronto wasn’t even a factor.
For music videos, extended interviews, a sweet track list, and additional Bloody but Unbowed news, check out the website.