Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

September 2 - September 26

American Punk

After the initial success of punk bands such as the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and the Ramones in the late 1970s, punk culture went underground. The gritty style and often offensive lyrics of most punk music just did not possess the mass appeal needed for major label endorsement. Free to do whatever they wanted, bands began putting out their own records and starting their own labels, and the "Do It Yourself" ethos became the backbone of punk culture.

What filmmaking took from punk was both its eagerness to reject convention and its DIY attitude. Our film series highlights North American films, dating from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, that feature punk music, punk performers and above all, punk aesthetics – particularly those that have been shown rarely, if ever, in the area.

Ranging in dates from the late 1970s through the early 1990s, the films are varied in genre and budget. While none of the films are lavish productions by any stretch, they do cover the wide domain of amateur (Desperate Teenage Lovedolls), indie feature (Border Radio, Times Square, Suburbia, No Skin Off My Ass) and verité documentary (The Decline Of Western Civilization, The Blank Generation and D.O.A.: A Right of Passage). Most made under desperate, comic or chaotic circumstances, they all share the punk spirit in both their creation and their content.


Friday Septmeber 2 at 7pm

Times Square

Directed by Allan Moyle. With Robin Johnson, Trini Alvarado, Tim Curry
USA 1980, 35mm, color, 111 min

Inspired by a girl's diary found in a secondhand couch, Times Square draws together several common themes in punk cinema: teenage runaways, mental illness, and of course, punk music. Shot in the dirty neon-lit streets of Times Square, the film authentically captures the spirit of an infamously sketchy space lost to Mayor Giuliani's "cleanup." Under pressure from his producer, Moyle had to sublimate his characters' overt lesbianism into suggestive subtext – witness the song "Your Daughter is One" – and adjust the music with hopes of producing a blockbuster soundtrack album. The opposing creative forces collide jarringly at times, yet the crazy combination also makes for an unusual and sweet celebration of defiant teenage girls. Print courtesy of the Moving Image Archives at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday September 2 at 9:15pm

D.O.A.: A Right of Passage

Directed by Lech Kowalski
US/UK 1981, digital video, color, 89 min

The Sex Pistols' tour of the US in 1978 was a galvanizing event that broke up the band and brought the punk phenomenon to mainstream attention. Polish-American documentarian Lech Kowalski was a fledgling filmmaker when he tagged along on the tour, capturing action onstage and off with his 16mm camera – including the infamous "bed interview" with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. The film captures the tension between Johnny Rotten and his bandmates – climaxing in the band's notorious final concert in San Francisco – and includes performances by bands like X-Ray Spex and Generation X, as well as entertaining interviews with concertgoers and shocked onlookers. Print courtesy of Revolt Cinema.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday September 3 at 7pm

The Decline of Western Civilization

Directed by Penelope Spheeris
USA 1981, 16mm, color & b/w, 100 min

Shot on 16mm with sync sound in dive clubs, cheap apartments and in Hollywood's shadows at the dawn of the 1980s, The Decline of Western Civilization turns an insider's jaundiced eye on Southern California's early punk scene. Interviewing a wide array of experts – teenagers at rock shows, musicians, club owners, music critics – Spheeris penetrates the aggressive, irreverent punk scene and attitude, revealing layers of the underground heretofore unseen by a mainstream audience. For the benefit of the uninitiated, some songs are subtitled and even slam dancing is more-or-less "explained." Focusing on live performance by such bands as Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks, Fear, and the Germs, and including rare footage of gay punk icon Darby Crash, the documentary even-handedly and intimately studies multiple facets of punk culture while letting punks speak for themselves. Print courtesy of Spheeris Films.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Saturday September 3 at 9pm

The Return of the Living Dead

Directed by Dan O'Bannon. With Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa
USA 1985, 35mm, color, 91 min

No punk rock film series would be complete without the original punk rock zombie movie. Directed by Hollywood veteran Dan O'Bannon, better known as writer of the Alien series, this film is a tongue-in-cheek amalgam of 1980s punk clichés and mythologies: the punk rocker with a spooky job, his crew of bad news friends – the Thug, the Slut, the New Waver – and the secret government experiment gone horribly awry. Featuring a deathrock soundtrack boasting such bands as 45 Grave and the Cramps, The Return of the Living Dead follows the gory exploits of undead punks and their insatiable search for brains. More brains! (Print courtesy of MGM/UA)

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Sunday September 4 at 5pm

The Decline of Western Civilization

Directed by Penelope Spheeris
USA 1981, 16mm, color & b/w, 100 min

Shot on 16mm with sync sound in dive clubs, cheap apartments and in Hollywood's shadows at the dawn of the 1980s, The Decline of Western Civilization turns an insider's jaundiced eye on Southern California's early punk scene. Interviewing a wide array of experts – teenagers at rock shows, musicians, club owners, music critics – Spheeris penetrates the aggressive, irreverent punk scene and attitude, revealing layers of the underground heretofore unseen by a mainstream audience. For the benefit of the uninitiated, some songs are subtitled and even slam dancing is more-or-less "explained." Focusing on live performance by such bands as Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks, Fear, and the Germs, and including rare footage of gay punk icon Darby Crash, the documentary even-handedly and intimately studies multiple facets of punk culture while letting punks speak for themselves. Print courtesy of Spheeris Films.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Sunday September 4 at 7pm

Suburbia

Directed by Penelope Spheeris. With Chris Pedersen, Bill Coyne,
Jennifer Clay
USA 1983, 35mm, color, 94 min

Deciding it was easier to turn punks into actors than to turn actors into punks, Spheeris cast all non-professional actors – with the exception of the two leads – in her harsh rendering of communal squatter life and punk culture. Escaping troubles at home, runaways in 1980s southern California create their own teenage dystopia in an abandoned suburban housing development. Neither heroes nor victims, the teens remain steadfastly loyal to their new family and new freedoms while fighting, harassing, and stealing from enemies who are not always unsympathetic. Featuring live performances by classic SoCal punk bands T.S.O.L., D.I. and the Vandals, Suburbia is the punk answer to the iconic 80s teen movie: anarchic, nihilistic and painfully realistic. Print courtesy of the University of California Los Angeles Film & Television Archive.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Monday September 5 at 7pm

No Skin Off My Ass

Directed by Bruce LaBruce. With Bruce LaBruce, GB Jones,
Klaus von Brücker
Canada 1991, 16mm, b/w, 73 min

When an extremely effeminate hairdresser picks up a skinhead, the stage is set for a queer, punk remake of Robert Altman's That Cold Day in the Park with filmmaker Bruce LaBruce in the Sandy Dennis role. GB Jones steals the show as the skinhead's lesbian sister, who encourages the odd match in hopes of getting material for her fledgling filmmaking career. Likewise, the director cleverly plays the subcultures against each other – queer disrupting punk's machismo and punk giving queer an edge in the face of its more consumerist tendencies. Mixing wit with a canny use of voiceover and sexually explicit sequences, this slim-budgeted film pronounced LaBruce a filmmaker to watch. Print courtesy of Strand Releasing.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday September 9 at 7pm

Border Radio

Directed by Alison Anders, Dean Lent, Kurt Voss. With Chris D.,
Chris Shearer, Luanna Anders
USA 1987, 35mm, b/w, 83 min

Directed by Allison Anders and two of her UCLA film school classmates over the course of four years, Border Radio is a low-key, low-budget black-and-white punk film noir. Half-improvised along the fuzzy edges of reality and fiction, the film was shot mostly guerilla-style and featured friends and relatives of the filmmakers, including punk legend Chris D. of the Flesh Eaters and X's John Doe – the first in his now-lengthy filmography. The story of a musician on the lam pursued by his wife and a few erratic cohorts evolves into a peculiarly funny chronicle of a specific time and place. Borrowing elements from disparate regions of the film genre lexicon — with echoes of Jarmusch and Wenders — Border Radio takes on a naturalistic, rambling life of its own as it captures all the wit, chaos, angst and regret of 1980s LA punk subculture in decline. Print courtesy of the Chris D. Collection at the Academy Film Archive.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Friday September 9 at 9pm

Desperate Teenage Lovedolls

Directed by Dave Markey. With Jennifer Schwartz, Hilary Rubens,
Janet Housden
USA 1984, digital video, color, 60 min

Made for the price of the sound super 8 film stock on which it was shot, this could be the cheapest feature film ever screened. Desperate Teenage Lovedolls is the result of combining Russ Meyers' Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and the formative punk band The Runaways with punk's DIY culture. In the vein of Suburbia – and sharing two of that film's young performers – Desperate not only turned punks into actors but made them directors as well. Dave Markey worked with star Jennifer Schwartz and a rudimentary script to improvise an epic tale of an all-girl rock n' roll juggernaut whose unmatched rise to fame is marked by a trail of death and destruction. Exploited by a seedy producer, fighting a rival band and producing the instant sensation Electric Catbox, the Lovedolls' stardom – unlike this underground tour de force – comes at quite a cost.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Sunday September 11 at 5pm
Monday September 12 at 7pm

The Blank Generation

Directed by Amos Poe and Ivan Kral
US 1976, 16mm, b/w, 55 min

New York's "No Wave" movement emerged as the group of filmmakers most closely allied with the punk ethos. One of its best-known figures, Amos Poe, and musician Ivan Kral made this uninhibited document of the music scene in mid-1970s downtown Manhattan. Composed primarily of footage shot at CBGB's of performers like Patti Smith, the Ramones, New York Dolls, Television and Talking Heads, The Blank Generation was actually shot on silent 16mm film with the sound recorded separately. In case there were audio problems, they would simply dub in a better recording of the song. Complete with handheld camera work, extreme close-ups and improvised zooms, the out-of-sync result is an electrifying mixture of home movie and experimental documentary. Print courtesy of Amos Poe.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

Introduction by Kathy Geritz of the Pacific Film Archive
Monday September 26 at 7pm

RADICAL LIGHT: ALTERNATIVE FILM AND VIDEO IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

Punk was more than the music. It was an attitude that swept through culture like an angry roar. It thundered in the Bay Area's dank clubs, but it could also be detected in brash works made by bratty artists intent on aesthetic insurrection. Everything in this program is about loud, whether it's the sonorous outbursts of the Avengers, the Mutants, or the Dils in Mindaugis Bagdon's searing doc Louder, Faster, Shorter, The Residents's prepunk proddings in Third Reich and Roll, or the memorable mayhem of the Offs in Richard Gaikowski's Deaf/Punk. A caustic collage of found images, The Units' Training Film was a visual backdrop for this groundbreaking punk-syntho band. While the music was churning in the clubs, video artists were mangling the medium. Whether it be Dale Hoyt's last gasps of anxious youth, Barney Haynes's sonic travels through the wasteland, or Ivar Smedstad's slice-and-dice orchestrations, the proof was in the pummeling. Finally, sluggo selections from Target Video's Joe Rees take us into the core of the hardcore maelstrom.
— Steve Seid, Pacific Film Archive

The Harvard Film Archive is screening selections from the Pacific Film Archive's series "Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area." Other screenings from this program will take place at ArtsEmerson on Saturday, September 24 and at MassArt on Wednesday, September 28.

Your World Dies Screaming

Dale Hoyt, 1981, video, color, 5 min.

Deaf/Punk

Richard Gaikowski, 1979, 16mm, b/w, 8 min

Thought Crimes in the Satiation Pool

Barney Haynes and Barry Shrwartz, 1987, video, color, 7 min

The Units' Training Film

Scott Ryser and Rachel Webber, 1980, color, 16mm, 12 min

Brent Aske

Ivar Smedstad, 1987, color, video, 5 min

Third Reich and Roll

The Residents, 1977, b/w, 16mm, 4 min

Louder, Faster, Shorter

Mindaugis Bagdon, 1979, b/w, 16mm, 17 min

Dancing Death Monsters

Dale Hoyt, 1981, color, video, 5 min

Selections from Target Video

Target Video, 1977–1980, color & b/w, video, 20 min



Total Running Time: 85 min

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700