Urgh! Two Perfectly Overdone Rockumentaries

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By Tom Warner

We believed that anything that was worth doing was worth overdoing.
—Steven Tyler

R&RVolume1On August 11, the Central Library will host a special 30th anniversary screening of Urgh! A Music War (1982), director Derek Burbidge’s cult concert film that many consider the best-ever "Rockumentary." Long believed to be unreleasable due to music rights issues, Urgh! was finally released on DVD in 2009 as part of Warner Archives' on-demand catalog and features the top Punk/New Wave acts of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

If you miss Saturday’s screening, the Pratt has another rare cult "Rock Doc" in its collection, Rock & Roll. Co-produced by the BBC and WGBH and narrated by Liev Shriever, it originally aired as a 10-part PBS miniseries in 1995. It traces the history of rock and roll music from its 1950s R&B roots through the advent of folk-rock, soul and psychedelia in the ‘60s, heavy metal, glam, funk, punk, and reggae in the 70s, all the way up to the emergence of rap and techno in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

The nature of Rock & Roll's mission—attempting to document the evolution of R&R over the course of almost 50 years—limits its scope to selected themes and clips, but what really sets this series apart from other similar efforts is the quality of its shot-on-Super 16-film archival footage. To a much greater degree than typical video stock, the Super 16 film captures intense colors and subtle shifts in lighting, resulting in breathtaking visuals.

And then there's the quality of its interviews and their settings: Iggy Pop is interviewed in a Midwest cornfield, Lou Reed in a New York City boxing gym, and so on. I especially like the episodes "The Wild Side" and "Punk." "The Wild Side" features clips of Wayne County, the transsexual musician whose appearance in the 1971 London theatrical production of Andy Warhol's Pork, wowed David Bowie so much that he started wearing makeup and embarking on his androgynous Ziggy Stardust look soon after. Viewers also get to see rare footage of Julian Beck's experimental Living Theatre, a group whose confrontational stage style greatly influenced Jim Morrison of The Doors and may have culminated in his infamous Miami concert arrest for profanity and indecent exposure.

Watch a clip from the episode, "The Wild Side."

The "Punk" episode goes into great detail about the influence of Jamaican dub, rocksteady and reggae on Brit punk groups like The Clash and Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols. It features rare archival clips of Patti Smith (from footage that had been stowed away in a fan's refrigerator for 14 years), early Television with Richard Hell, and a pre-Blondie Debbie Harry dancing around with The Stilettos.

Watch a clip from "Punk."

Though each of the 10 episodes is broadly organized by genre, stories often converge and overlap, creating a sort of musical pilgrimage in which viewers visit key moments in the history of rock & roll. Thus, Rock & Roll can be enjoyed as both an intro for the uninitiated and a highlights reel for diehard music fans.

So CooL!
Posted by: Paula at 8/8/2012 3:27 p.m.

Yeah, "Going faster miles an hour!" This has me inspired to check out some of these from the library, but in the meantime I had fun checking out some of the video clips on YouTube, including bits from "Urgh! A Music War" - Jello Biafra looks so young! And RIP Lux Interior - what great characters. Enjoy the screening on Saturday, everyone! http://www.prattlibrary.org/calendar/atpratt.aspx?id=73275
Posted by: Teresa at 8/8/2012 4:44 p.m.

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