Angel City Media
84 min., dir. by WT Morgan, with John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom, and DJ Bonebreak
After coming to the conclusion that writing a review that simply said Just go buy this was kinda pretentious (and also that despite their 30-plus years in existence as a band, there might be some folks who still have no idea who the hell X is), I opted for the standard type of review.
If you haven’t heard the band X, try to conjure up what an electrified and broke-assed Woody Guthrie would sound like if he had lived in a seedy Los Angeles apartment, drank cheap wine, ate cheap junk food, and listened to Leadbelly, ’60s garage rock, and lots of punk. And honestly, that still doesn’t do the band any descriptive justice.
Now, in case their history is unknown to you, X started out in Los Angeles back in 1979. The band was then and still is as follows: John Doe on bass and vocals, Exene Cervenka on vocals, Billy Zoom on guitar, and DJ Bonebreak on drums. Along with bands like The Alley Cats, Fear, Circle Jerks, The Bags, Black Flag, The Germs, and a mess of others, started punk rock in LA. X stood apart from most of the herd because they could play their instruments well and had a surf/punk/folk/rockabilly sound that further separated them from the others. Add the stand-still guitar work of Zoom, the mentally fading, Asian cat lady-esque harmonies of Exene, and the band’s often ironic, gritty street poems for lyrics, and you’re looking at Americana from the other side of the tracks. Simply fucking beautiful — bad teeth, ill-fitting clothes, and all.
Oh. The review.
The DVD is a re-release of the 1986 film, and as with any DVD re-release, you’ve got to check out the bonus material first, right? The extra footage for The Unheard Music is of Exene and John giving their take on the movie, their songs, Hollywood in the early ’80s, snippets of how X formed and was signed, and just life in general. There’s also interviews with Angel City Media who made the film, the theatrical trailer (eh, kind of a mandatory part of the bonus crud) and an outtake/alternative shot of the song “Some Other Time.” The dialogues are cool, the song outtake is cool, and the trailer is cool (as far as trailers for movies go).
So overall? Cool.
The off-kilter vibe of the band and the LA scene is perfectly captured right off the bat with the reading of a letter from a slightly unstable fan. That leads into live footage of the song “Los Angeles” and the blowing up of the legendary Hollywood sign. Seriously…with that type of intro, whether you know the band or not, you sort of know where this ride’s going, and you know it’s going to be big fun.
After that, the film consists of band recollections about the early LA scene and its dirty birth followed by a history lesson on the band, montages of still pictures, and classic TV ads, all interspersed with well-shot, live footage (17 songs total).
The film itself is incredible — amazingly shot, stellar visual concepts, funny, tight editing — just a perfectly executed film. Part art film, part live concert film, part social commentary, part history lesson, part documentary, part music video, all essential.
(Music Video Distributors, PO Box 280, Oaks, PA 19456)