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Louder, Faster: Punk in Performance

Thursday, June 26, 2008
8:40 p.m. The Decline of Western Civilization
Penelope Spheeris (U.S., 1981)

Featuring Fear, the Germs, X, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and others

(We regret that due to a scheduling conflict, Penelope Spheeris will be unable to attend this screening as previously announced.) It would be great (perhaps) if punk had the power to bring down Western Civ. But it doesn’t. Penelope Spheeris’s writhing and raucous portrait of the L.A. punk scene circa 1979/80 is about the surface tension, the appearance of decline. And on the surface there is a certain decrepitude as Darby Crash, lead singer of the Germs, slogs around his house issuing an inventory of his addictions, or Lee Ving, the chilling frontman for Fear, spews off-color jokes meant to raise the heckles. But onstage, the music is propulsive, and despite its tear-it-down tenacity it’s about liberation through pure velocity. At 300 bpm, even the skinheads pogoing in the pit can leave this earth and its grim politic behind. X’s ode to orgasmic excess, “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene”; Black Flag’s inverted cry of injustice, “White Minority; Fear’s cure for our carbon footprint, “Let’s Have a War”: in these grimy songs and more, the exuberance always trumps the decline.

—Steve Seid

• Photographed by Steve Conant. (100 mins, Color, 35mm, From the filmmaker)

Preceded by short:
Mongoloid (Bruce Conner, U.S., 1978). Conner’s triumphal reconstitution of Devo’s white flannel folly of the same name. (4 mins, Color, 16mm, PFA Collection)

• (Total running time: 104 mins)