The rage, terror, and joy of punk rockers is hard to appropriately capture on film. I have seen directors place punk into a nice neat box of hardcore drug users, nihilism and fighting, but that’s not punk.
“SLC Punk!”, directed by James Merendino, explores hardcore punk rockers’ reasons to live and rebel. I do not think this film encapsulates all of the punk genre, but it does get a clearer representation of punk compared to a mainstream music film.
This movie stars Matthew Lillard as Stevo, Michael A. Goorjian as Bob and Annabeth Gish as Trish. A few other notable actors are Jason Siegel, James Duval and Summer Phoenix.
Stevo and Bob are reformed nerds who turned to the punk music scene when they felt outcast by their classmates. They live in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is a funny setting for a punk film. Exploring the fictional punk scene in Salt Lake City (SLC), we are taken on a journey of pent up emotions.
Stevo is pushed by his parents to attend Harvard Law School after graduating from Utah University. Bob, on the other hand, is growing more accustomed to life in SLC as he falls in love with a mystical being, Trish.
I love the way Merendino is able to show Stevo becoming more aware that being a punk in SLC isn’t something to do for life. Stevo’s dad at the beginning of the film tells him to “buy in” to society and law, but don’t sell out. This comment is a catalyst for Stevo’s change throughout the film.
By the end of the film, Stevo changes, Bob changes, even punk changes. The characters are full of life throughout the film, but as we explore their motives and backgrounds they become more realistic and loveable. The way I perceived this vision of punk changed how I appreciate music in general. I see more artists as expressive, and I am able to enjoy more voices in music.
Okay, the music in this film is great. It doesn’t dive as deep as it could in terms of hardcore punk, but it grasps the roots of punk rock firmly.
The movie opens with “Sex and Violence” by The Exploited, which is a fun way to open any film. I think this track (even though it is a bit repetitive) can keep my blood pumping even harder. It also prepares viewers well for the blood, sex, and stories that follow.
Also, in the intro are the opening credits where they put actors’ names onto the album art of tracks they used in the film. I thought it was a cool way to appreciate the art and love for the albums as they flashed across the screen.
The Adolescents bring a hard, riotous edge to one of the fight scenes, while “Gasoline Rain” slows the film down a bit during an emotional scene. I find both tracks are used perfectly in the score. They tie into the characters’ emotions well and are able to make the scenes feel bigger than the film.
“Kill the Poor” by Dead Kennedys is great core punk music. I just wish this wasn’t saved for the end credit scenes of this movie. It could have been used for a cool rowdy scene in the desolate SLC, but unfortunately got chopped up to be put with the credits.
I don’t think I could write about this film without talking about the costumes. There are so many wonderful flavors of people that are represented.
Stevo’s striking blue hair is sick. At one point he has a massive blue mohawk that grabs your eyes from every other thing happening on the screen. Everyone’s clothes are really well adapted for the SLC weather and punk shows.
Check out this clip that shows off their costumes well [Content Warning: violence and cursing]:
I love how all of the “gangs” of Salt Lake City all have a semblance of a uniform. The mods in the suits and coats, the punk rockers in their rough style and the rednecks looking like stereotypical rednecks all come together to create a strange, vibrant scene. Everything meshes together to create a lifelike city atmosphere, and I could almost attribute that solely to the costumes.
While I love watching this film, there are a few issues with it. Mainly, I think it does not talk about sexuality and punk well. It will have lines that hint at the topic, but I think it’s a big part of punk culture that gets glossed over and not explored.
More issues include how the movie ended and what it poses as a solution for punk rockers. I won’t go into much detail about it because it spoils it a bit, but I feel as if it gave up too much of its core values and did not set up a bright future for all of the characters (not that they have to have bright futures).
Overall, I highly recommend watching this even if you aren’t remotely into punk as it explores art and music in an exciting way.