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Anarchy in the U.S.A.

By Coury Turczyn

NOVEMBER 15, 1999:  Punk ain't what it used to be. Which is inevitable, I suppose, but that doesn't stop old punkers from grumbling about these damn kids today—sure, they've co-opted the style and sound, but what about the true punk mindset? With punk rock's mainstream MTV success—and its unavoidable candy coating—current teen punkers are just playacting, they say. Maybe so, but wherever you have small towns with angry kids, you're still going to have real punks, whether they're wearing jackboots and chains or v-neck sweaters. And even if the groups aren't as original today, there are still going to be basement bands playing loud, sloppy rants just as fervently as back in the day.

One such punk scene is recreated in writer/director James Merendino's S.L.C. Punk! (R, 1999), set in mid-'80s Salt Lake City. Being populated mostly by Mormons, this Utah city isn't exactly a fun place to be for teenagers of a less than religious bent. Nevertheless, as our old school punk narrator Stevo (Scream's Matthew Lillard) reveals, there are pockets of rebellion: disaffected youths who dress funny and throw house parties with thrashing hardcore bands. Stevo introduces us to his circle of punk friends, telling us whether they measure up to his punk ethos or if they're just poseurs. Although from a rich family, Stevo believes himself to be a true anarchist, indifferent to everyday concerns, and much more interested in beating up rednecks and tearing down Ronald Reagan's fascist rule. His roommate Bob (Michael A. Goorjian), a mohawked psychopathic idealist, is his comrade in arms—until Bob falls in love with a Goth chick. But there's no real storyline in S.L.C. Punk! other than witnessing Stevo's slow passage to maturity amid the battles between various cliques—the skinheads, mods, rednecks, etc. Some may consider this mostly an exercise in nostalgia, perhaps, but Merendino really captures that moment in youth when living as a self-imposed outcast makes wonderful sense (even if your rebellion isn't entirely effective). And Lillard, finally allowed to do some real acting, carries the movie with his expressive face and sense of emotional abandon.

But if you want to go back to the original punks, you can check out The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (R, 1980), Julien Temple's off-the-wall documentary about the selling of the Sex Pistols. Although it's littered with pretentious dadaism and sub-Monty Python silliness, the performance clips and backstage glimpses are still the closest you'll get to the real thing. Likewise, Rude Boy (R, 1980) wraps a story about an angry young punk around a semi-documentary about The Clash. The narrative's confusing unless you know something about late-'70s British politics and culture, but the music is raw and bracing. There was a reason this stuff scared the hell out of parents.

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