Martin Scorsese recently announced that he has his heart set on making a Ramones biopic. To me, this is fabulous news. Not only because I love the Ramones, but also because it’s been a while since we’ve seen Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a leather jacket. I’ve been needing some new masturbation material. Anyway, here on Filmdrunk you all know me as a woman. However, I am more than a woman. I am also punk as f*ck. Apologies for not being able to fully spell out the ‘f’ word. The corporation that is letting me write this believes in censoring foul language, and I must conform to these rules. This might not sound very punk to you, but if you think about it, nothing is more punk than selling out.
In honor of a future Ramones biopic, I decided to do something I have wanted to do for a long time: make a list of my favorite punk films. I’m talkin’ movies made by punks, about punks, for punks. [Editor’s Note: When Alison asked me if she could write this feature, I said of course, FilmDrunk is the punkest movie site on the web. We celebrated by spitting on each other for an hour and I cut myself with a bottle. -Vince]
I narrowed the list down to five, but there are of course way more than five great punk films. To make things easier, I did not include documentaries into my decision process. This obviously leaves out a lot of great films, most notably The Decline of Western Civilisation. If you’re butt-hurt about this then too bad, bucko (this is a prime example of my punk rage). I also chose not to include Repo Man, which I know I will get crap for. Here’s the thing though, Repo Man sucks. Same goes for SLC Punk. I also left out Sid & Nancy because it’s too goddamn obvious. Let’s begin.
Suburbia is the quintessential punk movie. It takes place in the special place where punk thrives, and will never die–a mostly white, middle-class neighborhood. Made in 1984, the film stars a bunch of young punks who were barely even actors. This includes Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist and current shirtless funk-rock God, Flea. The film centers on a group of lost souls who call themselves “The Rejected”. They each moved away from home for various reasons, and live together in an abandoned tract home. Bands such as TSOL and the Vandals are also seen in the film, performing songs like “Darker My Love” and “The Legend of Pat Brown”.
Suburbia in many ways flipped the script on what it meant to be a punk. It showed these kids as more than rowdy, violent, miscreants. It brought depth to a subculture that at the time was largely demonized. Director Penelope Spheeris (who later directed Wayne’s World) kind of did what Francis Ford Coppola did to mobsters with The Godfather, but with more moshing. These kids looked out for one another, and made each other family. It showed the punk movement as a safe haven for people who had nowhere else to go.
#4: Class of Nuke ‘Em High
A lot of camp horror and monster films use punks and punk rock aesthetics. Especially in the ‘80s. The most popular possibly being Return of the Living Dead. However, I wanted to put on my list the classic Troma film, Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Here, the punks are evil which is totally fine by me because they look cool as hell. The film centers around a high school, which is located next to a nuclear power plant. The evil punks known as The Cretins, sell marijuana to students that is picked from the plant. The radioactive weed changes people at the school, making them either really violent or pregnant with a monster baby.
Look, I love Troma films. Well, most Troma films. I don’t know why, maybe because I am a 14-year-old boy. Troma films did things that mainstream films could never do. In many ways films like this one and Surf Nazis Must Die, even the Toxic Avenger, were progressive. On top of the DIY mentality, Troma and punk get along well together because both celebrate trash and filth. It’s as much a part of our lives as anything else. Ain’t that special?
#3: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains
This is yet another seminal punk film. Diane Lane stars as the lead singer of a teenage girl band called The Stains. Her “screw the system” attitude gets her noticed by the media, and her band ends up being famous. Though they don’t have much musical talent (insert joke about all punk bands not having musical talent) Diane’s character, Corinne, starts a movement among teenage girls. They start dressing like her, and mimicking her angst. Complications arise when Corinne appears to have sold out, but (spoiler alert) the Stains end up on top in the end, and years later finally get their chance to shine on MTV.
There is a lot to be said about the significance of this film. Not only about women in the punk movement, but also about the exploitation of punk for monetary profit. Punk, after all, is a movement based on the rejection of these things. Oops, someone call Green Day. However, I’m not going to go into it. I’m just going to show you this clip from the film–my favorite scene–and you’ll see a bit of what I’m talking about for yourself.
#2: Times Square
Continuing with the theme of teenage girls screwing the system, Times Square stars Robin Johnson as Nicky Marotta who befriends “good girl” Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado) when both are sent to the hospital to be examined for mental illness. Nicky lives on the streets, and aspires to be a singer. Pam is the sheltered daughter of an evil politician who is determined to clean up Times Square, rid it of crime, and make it a safe space for tourists. Boo!
The two bond, and Pam runs away to be with Nicky. They form a band called the Sleez Sisters, and eventually take over a radio station. A popular radio DJ played by Tim Curry let’s them perform live and they start a movement. Back then, people actually listened to radio and rebellious teens were a lot easier to organize. Soon, teenage girls are taking over Times Square wearing trash bags and bandit masks. The film is described by a lot of white dudes as a “lesbian-punk fantasy”. This is exactly the kind of lesbian-punk fantasy I have on a day-to-day basis.
#1: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
Duh. Of course. No shit. Any self-proclaimed punk who does not list this film as their number one favorite punk film is a straight up poser. Then again a self-proclaimed punk is not very punk to begin with (see my intro paragraph). This musical comedy showed the Ramones doing what they do best, ruining educational institutions and melting women’s hearts in the process.
The movie centers on bored teenager and lover of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Riff Randell (P.J. Soles). Her favorite band is the Ramones (who play themselves in the film). When they come to her town, she is desperate to meet them and have them sing a song she wrote aptly titled “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School”. Complications arise when her evil high school principal attempts to ban Rock ‘n’ Roll because it is turning her students into sex-crazed animals. The principal is played by cult film goddess, Mary Woronov. Fun side-note: Woronov and another actor in this film, Paul Bartel, later co-starred in the cult classic Eating Raoul which was also directed and written by Bartel.
The grand finale of this movie is pretty much the most punk thing ever. The high school blows up as the Ramones shred to Randell’s song. There you have it kids, school sucks and music is the only thing worth living for. Rock on.
Well there you have it. This is my mostly sincere list of my favorite punk films. Of course, there has to be honorable mentions so I’ll write those out here: Out of the Blue, Pump Up the Volume, Control, Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, Blank Generation, What We Do is Secret, Dogs in Space, Smithereens, Jubilee, Valley Girls, and a whole lot more but who cares?