Review: Kill Your Idols

The film’s construction isn’t groundbreaking but the shrill freakshow of talking heads is revealing.

Kill Your Idols
Photo: Palm Pictures

You would think that a documentary that extols and attempts to legitimize the achievements of the short-lived No Wave movement wouldn’t please Lydia Lunch, former member of Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, but here she is, mouthing off—along with a half dozen other purveyors of punk rock’s uglier and unrulier offshoot—about why New York City was the place to scream during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kill Your Idols allows Lunch and others like Martin Rev of Suicide, Arto Lindsay of DNA, and Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to get to the essence of No Wave, a Dadaist form of anti-performance music predicated on pure nihilism and the rejection of “excess” (like, say, melodies, harmonies, and creative influences). You might walk away from the film with respect for the rage-against-the-machine ethos of these No Wavers, but even Lunch might tell you that you would have to be pathological to prefer her sound to that of, say, the Au Pairs. The film enters sketchy terrain in its second half when the focus shifts to today’s post-punk scene and the topic of the success of bands like The Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Gogol Bordello. It is here that the anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, anti-everything mantra of noisemakers like Lunch and the hateful lead singer of A.R.E. Weapons crosses the line into ugly and unreasonable terrain, where the Yeah Yeah Yeahs—whose Karen O and Nick Zinner, incidentally, met at the dingy-fun (read: street-credible) Mars Bar—and their “very manufactured” ilk are whipped for essentially having record contracts, failing to see that they themselves are pushing their own brand of homogeneity by wanting bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to scream as loud as they do and harp about the same things. The film’s construction isn’t groundbreaking but the shrill freakshow of talking heads is revealing, conveying how revolutionary spirits can spread their own form of oppressive bile.

 Cast: Martin Rev, Jim Sclavunos, Lydia Lunch, Glenn Branca, Arto Lindsay, Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, Michael Gira, Karen O, Nick Zinner, Brian Chase, Eugene Hutz  Director: S. A. Crary  Distributor: Palm Pictures  Running Time: 70 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2004  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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