10 Great Documentaries About Punk Rock


Have we all recovered from seeing punk at the Met? Well, here’s more — from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The institution has released a series of documentaries on their video channel, MOCAtv. The films focus on the art and logos of bands like Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and Crass. You can check it out after the break, where we’ve shared a great variety of other documentaries about punk music. These films examine everything from the development of queercore to punk papas coping with fatherhood.

MOCAtv, the video channel of The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, is featuring a new documentary series on the art of punk. The iconic posters, flyers, tees, album art, and logos of bands Black Flag and Crass have been featured so far. Listen to a chat with Raymond Pettibon (who designed Black Flag’s distinctive logo), Henry Rollins, and others in the below clip. Watch more on YouTube or Open Culture.

This 10-hour TV series debuted in 1995 and featured a companion book written by music journalist Robert Palmer. Rock & Roll documented the evolution of various genres. Episode nine covered punk and featured rare and fascinating footage — like that of singer Patti Smith. Film of the artist was hidden away undeveloped in a fan’s refrigerator for 14 years. Smartly produced and not your typical “clip show,” check out part one and follow the YouTube links (or Dangerous Minds) for more.

Many punk documentaries emphasize white, male musicians from the US and UK, which is why it’s great to see the release of a new documentary from Drafthouse Films, A Band Called Death. The African-American trio (the Hackney brothers) formed Death during the early 1970s in Detroit. They cut a few demos, played a few local shows, and broke up in 1977. “A Band Called Death chronicles the incredible fairy-tale journey of what happened almost three decades later, when a dusty 1974 demo tape made its way out of the attic and found an audience several generations younger.” Death is now being credited as the first black punk band — and arguably the first punk band. Visit the Drafthouse website to find out when the film is screening in your area.

Jim Fields and Michael Gramaglia’s End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones started as a documentary about the band’s final year on the road in 1994, but the filmmakers were met with a few legal/management roadblocks. Production picked up after the group retired — and good things always come to those who wait. The 2003 film reveals the complexities of a band that played seemingly simple music. Debbie Harry, Joe Strummer, family, and other friends are amongst those interviewed for an endearing, honest, and in-depth portrait.

Filmmaker Lucy Thane is perhaps best known for directing It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill In The UK, which documented the band’s 1993 tour with Huggy Bear. Her 1997 doc She’s Real (Worse than Queer) is also essential viewing — and thankfully Thane has posted it online (below). Featuring artists like Tribe 8, Team Dresch, Fifth Column, Cunts With Attitude, and Phranc, Thane reveals an often overlooked diversity in the genre and the important roles women played in its development.

If you want to see what the director of Old School and The Hangover was up to before he started fixating on the lives of suburban man-children, watch Todd Phillips’ 1993 doc on GG Allin (created while he was a student at NYU). “GG liked the movie. When he finally did see the whole movie, I remember he gave me a hug,” the filmmaker said in a 2007 interview.

It’s always fascinating to watch a film that documents something as it unfolds. That’s the case with UK TV doc Punk: The Early Years (shot in 1977-1978), which features some fantastic footage of artists such as The Slits, Billy Idol’s early band, Generation X, the Sex Pistols, X-Ray Spex, and Siouxsie Sioux. Women are well represented here. If you’re looking for something a little rougher around the edges with memorable footage of the greats, this is it.

The 2007 doc Punk’s Not Dead focuses on the 1980s and 1990’s scene in the US. Director Susan Dynner balances the spotlight between the underground and the bands that broke into the mainstream.

A follow-up to Julien Temple’s first film about the Sex Pistols, The Great Rock and Roll Swindle — which was considered somewhat controversial for its slanted view as told by the Pistols’ relentlessly self-promoting manager Malcolm McLaren — the 2000 film The Filth and the Fury is told from the viewpoint of the band. “To see this film’s footage from the ’70s is to see the beginning of much of pop and fashion iconography for the next two decades,” Roger Ebert wrote of the film. Be sure to read Rog’s full review for a story about his dinner with Johnny Rotten and Russ Meyer. To be a fly on that wall…

They went from rebelling against the ‘rents, to becoming parents themselves. Oscilloscope Lab’s 2011 film, The Other F Word , examines the daily struggles and touching stories of punk rock singers turned responsible dads.