Tuesday, July 25, 2017

'Turn It Around: The Story Of East Bay Punk' (2017) Movie Review

Any movie with a Crimpshrine song playing over the credits has my immediate attention. And so begins Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, Corbett Redford’s Green Day-produced, Iggy Pop-narrated documentary looking back at decades of loud, abrasive punk rock spawned by right side of the San Francisco Bay.

If you just so happened to be a weird West Coast punk kid in the early 1990s, Turn It Around is a treasure trove cataloging one of the most eclectic, vibrant scenes in the country. This is a who’s who of genre legends, ranging from the mainstream big timers like Green Day and Rancid, to legends like Neurosis, Spitboy, Filth, and Isocracy, to countless other bands that popped up, made some noise, and wandered into the sunset. To list the bands and people who show up, we’d be here all day, but it’s a hell of a list.

Clocking at 155 minutes, it’s also brutally overlong. Personally, I loved it. Between the interviews and grainy old footage, this is like 14-year-old me’s personal fever dream. It’s full of video and discussions of bands I dearly loved, that changed my perspective, but I haven’t thought about in years. So, for those who fall into a similar category, the length won’t be an issue, but for those not immersed in this world, it’s a bit much to sit through in one go.

But while Turn It Around presents a fascinating, in-depth look at history of the East Bay punk scene, it functions primarily as a document or a time capsule rather than a larger narrative. Starting with the tail end of the radical 60s, it breaks things down year-by-year, or at least era-by-era, cataloging individual bands. It touches on seminal releases, important shows, and key events, and spends a lot of time on the 924 Gilman Street project, a collective DIY show space the scene revolved around.

Full of off-the-wall characters—the scene was a magnet for weirdos and outcasts looking for a place to belong, and the movie shows off many of them—and crazy stories, it captures the excitement and enthusiasm of (largely) young people coming together and creating and expressing themselves. At the same time, however, you start to wonder about a greater point.

In the end, it’s all rather surface level, like, “Here’s what was going on,” with little depth beyond that. It’s easy to see how much it meant to the people involved, and the filmmakers obviously have a deep love—the length feels like a direct result of an unwillingness to leave out anything, no matter how minor. All of this provides an interesting look, but it also makes Turn It Around feel like a punk rock history book.

Again, I have an affinity for this particular scene at this particular time. I found parts quite moving, heard stories that were just rumors when I was a kid, and nearly drowned in a crushing wave of nostalgia. But I’m curious to see how audiences more removed from this world respond. Will people fall in love with these songs or will they just sound like loud clattering about on shitty instruments? Will outsiders sit still for two-and-a-half hours of what occasionally feels like old dudes reminiscing about the good ol’ days over a beer at the corner bar? Is this a movie solely for a specific niche? And is that enough?

Turn It Around serves as a love letter, a time capsule telling a story that isn’t often told, and might not be otherwise. Initially, it funnels the punk energy and urgency, but it simply doesn’t sustain over the long haul, and by the end, the wheels just kind of spin. (I’m sure there’s something to be written on the subject of a bloated, overlong movie about notoriously stripped-down, spare punk songs.) Still, if you have any interest in punk as a music or a subculture, Turn It Around offers a rare look one unique, dynamic scene that’s worth the deep dive, even if it could use and editor. [Grade: B+]

Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk starts a theatrical roll out with a run at the IFC Film Center in New York, but it will also hit the road with Green Day, playing one-night engagements at theaters as the band passes through. Click here for a list of showings.

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