I know I sound like my dad, but when I was a kid, music and buzz about music couldn't move at the speed of light, via music blogs, MP3s and filesharing; it moved from town to town in photocopied 'zines, 45's, and gear-crammed Ford Econoline vans that smelled like dude. American Hardcore, adocumentary by Paul Rachman based on the book by Steven Blush, revisits that time, and celebrates it through a rag-tag mix of old, blurry footage, new, slightly blurry interviews and loud, fast music. Specifically, American Hardcore is subtitled "The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986," and offers an interesting counter-timeline for the early '80s. History, they say, is written by the winners; American Hardcore offers a few chapters from people who were, in fact, proud to be 'losers,' then and now, if that was defined by being set against the mainstream of consumerism and conformity.
American Hardcore isn't the most polished documentary you've ever seen -- there are plenty of interviews where the microphone cord sticks out on the subject's shirts like an undone zipper, or a spoken phrase is mixed with the huff and bluster of the wind. But then again, punk rock was never about sonic perfection: It was (and is) about emotional intensity, and American Hardcore has that in van loads, and delivers with onetwothreefour! power. All the usual suspects are interviewed here -- Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, Greg Hetson of The Circle Jerks -- but there are also interviews with more marginal figures (or, more precisely, figures on the margins of the margins) like Vic Bondi of Articles of Faith, who sums up Hardcore's response to the Reagan era: "Everyone was saying it was 'Morning in America'; someone had to say 'It's fucking midnight!" In fact, the interviews are strong enough that Rachman wisely forgoes a narrator (And who would you get to narrate this film, anyhow? It's not really a gig for Morgan Freeman) and relies instead on the people who were there, the old VHS tapes plundered from some closet and a few wisely-chosen video graphics.