D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage Blu-ray Review: Nevermind the Bollocks, Watch This Film

Seminal punk documentary finally gets a digital release.
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A few years back, maybe ten come to think of it, I was getting to know a girl, Pamela, who eventually became a good friend.  I asked her, like I always ask people I’m getting to know, what kind of music she liked.  She said she was a big punk fan.  Intrigued, as she didn’t look like your typical punk rocker, I asked for details.  “Who do you like,” I asked. “The Dead Kennedys? The Minutemen?”  “Who?” she replied.  Pushing further, I asked “The Misfits?  Black Flag?”  I got blank stares.  “How about the Ramones or Green Day?”   Nothing.

“Well, who do you like?”  With a smile she said, “Oh I just love Avril Lavigne!”  To my credit, I did not laugh in her face, or smack her upside the head.  I didn’t explain that just because Avril Lavigne wears a plaid skirt, gives a little attitude, and writes songs with weird spellings like “Sk8er Boy” (which always seemed more Prince like to me rather than punk, but whatever) does not make her a punk.  I just smiled and said, “Cool.”  Later, I whined to my wife about kids these days and their faux rock and roll.

Thinking about that now, I have to admit that I don’t really know much about punk either.  I know enough to name check those bands and am sure I’ve got a copy of Ramones somewhere around here and Green Day’s Dookie was on heavy rotation during my high school years, but as much as I liked the idea of punk rock, I never really got into it.

These days it all just sounds like noise.  Watching the seminal punk documentary D.O.A.:  A Rite of Passage, I feel like Danny Glover in those Lethal Weapons films muttering, “I’m too old for this shit.”  But if you are a punker, if you like that music then this film was made for you.

D.O.A. covers the London punk movement in the mid-'70s with a focus on the Sex Pistols from their birth on the mean streets to their disastrous tour of the United States in 1978, which ended with their break-up.  Reportedly, the band’s manager intentionally booked the band in country bars in the Deep South just to create a tension-filled scene.  We see footage of police reacting violently to the chaos of punks mixing with Bible thumpers, of cowboy-hat-wearing rednecks pushing up against spiked-haired punks.

It is loaded with live footage of the Sex Pistols plus The Dead Boys, Generation X featuring a very young Billy Idol, Rich Kids, Sham 69, Terry and the Idols, and others.  It's got a lot of man-on-the-street interviews with kids going to see the shows who seem to love and hate the bands in equal measure.  There are some hilarious talks with stodgy old Brits and anti-smut crusaders who think that punk is destroying society as we know it and declare the kids today can’t be taken seriously if they don’t speak properly using the Queen’s English.

Filmwise, it's about as punk as you can get.  The record label actively worked against director Lech Kowalski and his crew so they had to sneak their cameras into the show, giving it a very DIY feel.  The editing is choppy and the music loud.  Often the live songs are intermixed with footage of street scenes in London, and various punks mingling about, or soldiers and police marching.  It is chaotic, poorly shot, and full of attitude, just like the music.

The highlight, besides the music is a notorious interview with Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen while lying on a bed.  Sid is in the midst of his heroin addiction and continually falls asleep dropping his lit cigarette onto Nancy’s lap.  In the middle of it, she decides to take off her very uncomfortable looking leather top and put on a racy little bra, all while joking that maybe they should shoot a porno.  It is that interview that inspired the cult movie Sid & Nancy. It's a film that is bustling with energy, full of blood and spirit from a very specific time and place.  It's a spit-filled riot, drenched in sweat and anger, and epitomizes the punk scene like no other film.

It's difficult to judge the video qualities on the Blu-ray transfer for a film like this.  Shot with handheld cameras on 16mm film in a very punk sort of manner, the movie is full of scratches and damage, poor lighting and grain, but it's meant to be that way.  Or at least that’s the way it originally came out.  It's also a film that has been notoriously difficult to access in any format for years so to get it in high definition and complain about it not looking pristine kind of misses the point.

The music comes in loud and clear (well, it's pretty distorted but that comes with the territory) and I never had any trouble hearing any of the interviews (understanding the thick accents is a different issue - and actually while we’re talking about accent,s the film does often subtitle the songs, but there was no option for additional subtitles through the rest of the film, which would have been helpful.)

Extras include a documentary on the making of the film which is almost as long as the actual film.  It's very informative and includes interviews with punk journalists, Sex Pistols historians and other assorted folks who were there.  It gives a good history of punk and really ought to be watched before the film as it sets the stage perfectly.  Also included is a 12-page book with color photos and a nice essay, and a two-sided poster for the film.

D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage is a passionate, ragged film that is a punk as the bands it's covering.  It's full of raw footage, and lots of great music.  It's not really my thing, but its a must-see for punk fans.  For me, I just don’t have the energy to be that angry anymore.

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