Hardcore punk was not only the antithesis of early-‘80s new wave but also, to some extent, of the Ramones’s gabba-gabba-hey rock, substituting any trace of melody, nuance, or grace in favor of primitive, bludgeoning speed and aggression. Anti-disco, anti-materialism, and anti-musicianship, it was an aggro movement predicated on young white male discontent, and though its shelf life was barely more than half a decade (1980-1986), its lasting impact can still be felt in both the punk arena as well as in myriad post-1990 heavy metal acts that embraced and refined its full-throttle, punch-smash-kill style. Paul Rachman’s American Hardcore, though, barely bothers with its subject’s enduring legacy, instead functioning mainly as a comprehensive point-by-point account of hardcore punk’s genesis in Southern California at the time of Ronald Reagan’s Oval Office ascendancy, its evolution into a violent, regionalized subculture defined by unique sounds, the rise to prominence of its most notable practitioners (Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Cro-Mags), and its unceremonious disappearance shortly after Reagan’s reelection. The country’s 40th president figures prominently in the film’s explanation for domestic punk’s birth, as Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” platform and the conservative preppie culture that ensued was—along with parents, jobs, and any and all authority figures—what most teenage punks were rebelling against. With regard to both hardcore’s inception as a reaction to Reagan conservatism as well as Minor Threat’s drug and alcohol-eschewing “straight edge” ethos as an alternative to the milieu’s prevalent substance abuse, Rachman’s documentary (written by Steven Blush, based on his book) could use some more cause and effect analysis. But if his is a routine nonfiction trip back in time, it’s nonetheless a fiercely rough-around-the-edges one, the director’s no-frills cinematography, blunt montages, and amateurish, gritty archival performance footage all faithfully echoing the music’s blistering crudity. And even better than American Hardcore‘s vigorousness or humorous anecdotes from icons such as Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, and H.R.—including a couple about fans paying their way into gigs with homemade bombs—is its attitudinal shrewdness, the film delivering affectionate (if slightly lightweight) nostalgia in a dense, forceful package devoid of that most un-hardcore of elements: sentimentality.
- Paul Rachman
- Steven Blush
- Adolescents, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Circle Jerks, D.O.A., Flipper, Gang Green, Jerry's Kids, MDC, Minor Threat, Poison Idea, 7 Seconds, SS Decontrol, TSOL, Zero Boys
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