It wasn't immediately noticeable how loud the sound was turned up at the Bartell Theatre late Saturday night until it briefly flickered out a couple of times. But given that the film on the screen was the Punk's Not Dead, the volume was perfectly appropriate.
This documentary by UW graduate Susan Dynner isn't exactly a history of punk, or a look at any particular element in the genre. Nor is it a personal tour through the scene, despite Dynner's long involvement as a photographer and crash pad host for touring bands. Punk's Not Dead incorporates elements of all three, but is probably best described as a diagnosis of the music and its culture some three decades into its life.
Introducing viewers to punk's underground origins and golden age, a subsequent decade of ferment, and its renaissance and widespread embracing in the early ‘90s, the documentary takes a special interest in a few things. These include the early D.C. scene (where Dynner cut her teeth with a camera), several early British bands (like the Adicts and Subhumans) that have made a long if not lucrative career in the music, and the eternal question of bestowing and claiming punk cred.
Specifically, Dynner dives into the culture surrounding and reacting to punk's most recent crop of mainstream stars, such as Sum 41 and My Chemical Romance. How has the embrace of punk fashion and (sometimes) music by the corporate world affected perceptions of the genre? How is its spirit being renewed by a new generation of kids?
After the screening, Dynner spoke with a few audience member, most asking why such-and-such a band was not included in the film. AFI, for example, no longer considered themselves punk. Joe Strummer, on the other hand, passed away in late 2003 shortly after she rescheduled her interview with the legend for early 2004.
There was also talk about the Madison punk scene of twenty years ago, particularly the clubs that fostered it. The long-gone Merlyn's came before Dynner's time, but she was certainly familiar with O'Cayz Corral and Club de Wash.
Oh, and the volume of the documentary? Dynner requested that it be turned up, something she does for every screening.