If you have ever listened to Sonic Youth, you will understand the genius of Thurston Moore. You won't, though, understand his captivatingly bi-polar personality, for he is one of music's most baffling men. Dave Markey concisely documents this within the opening scenes of 1991: The Year Punk Broke, as we witness him recanting a hypnotic mantra as Kim Gordon and Kurt Cobain dance inanely on a train track. After a quick song break, we are taken to a window ledge where Moore is shouting such pearls of wisdom as, "You are not just a duck, you are a human, go forth and thrash," at bemused Europeans.
This, ladies and gents, isn't merely a documentary offering a glimpse into what is a stellar European tour; it isn't just a documentary about a particular music scene; it isn't even a documentary about the finest group of Grunge bands ever to have existed. It's a documentary about the pinnacle of youth culture.
Thurston Moore is very much the star of the show but Dave Markey's organic low key style keeps the reality of this at the forefront. His choice of intercutting backstage and off stage moments with songs from the bands on the tour makes for a truly chaotic and natural representation of a tour. Obviously all the songs are great - most of them classics - so we don't need to see the bands simply playing. As a fan rather than a film maker Markey understands this, which is why he gets right in there and shows us the crowds moshing; fighting; drinking and talking. His highly visual MTV style is incessant but perfect to sustain your interest in a feature length documentary, which has a fair amount of live footage.
"This is another in a long line of interviews with foreign journalists who don't understand what you're saying, while you in turn understand little that they ask," says Lee Ranaldo, guitarist of Sonic Youth, as he and Thurston are yet again interviewed. It is statements like this which explains why fans like documentaries about their favourite bands and in turn, what makes a DVD such as this worthwhile. One of the funniest moments of the DVD is when one of the crew explains to us all the definition of a fictional ailment known only as 'Thurstonitis' which involves symptoms such as wandering aimlessly looking for youth record stores.
Nothing here is what it seems and Markey has craftily worked in these skits that feel almost like set pieces into the very fabric of the documentary. Don't believe your eyes: what you may think is Kurt Cobain congratulating Sonic Youth on a good show and them jokily accepting his praise by feigning vomiting is actually a nod to Madonna (one of many), which you only begin to understand when you recall that Kurt was introduced as Kevin Costner. I told you it wasn't merely a live DVD.
Watching The Year Punk Broke is a very voyeuristic experience; it's as if you're prying on someone's home movies from their holiday. These are American bands captured travelling through Europe in the height of summer; it is their vacation. As you might imagine, as well as discussions about the differences between playing in a band as a skinhead or a 'hair', these kids also face the mundane issues of not knowing the difference between all the 'wursts' on a German sausage stand. Unlike you and me Thurston Moore has the unique ability and privilege to interview an expert; it's bizarre.
This is 1991 and these bands are at the height of their fame; it's the year punk broke and the vandals play their parts very well. Nirvana and Kurt Cobain are, as ever, quietly hidden in the background, though we do see 'pre-bitch meltdown' Courtney Love looking rather fresh-faced and on the road to crazy town. Sonic Youth is a very different band in contrast, seemingly relishing the fame thrust upon them. It's of course all presented as a joke, even in moments of clairvoyant clarity in which Kim and Thurston talk about the travails of fame and 'brat-core' It is hard to tell though what true opinions lurk just off camera behind the facade.
They are characters just as much as musicians and this is their story. We all know how it ends but Dave Markey is systematically restoring faith in the journey and in the diminishing belief in a youth culture that stood for something. It is this raw approach to film making and to music which easily means just as much today as it did in the age that spawned it.
A worthy present for a fan of any of the featured bands, the 20th anniversary first time DVD edition comes with over 60 minutes of bonus footage featuring a ton more performances; a 12 years on question and answer session and one of Dave Markey's previously unreleased films. As a believer in the whole world of DIY (not the B&Q sort) Markey doesn't short change anyone who cares enough to buy his films, which is exactly the reason you should buy his film.
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th November 1992
Production compaines: Geffen Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Dave Markey
Producer: We Got Power Productions
Starring: Mark Arm as Himself (Mudhoney), Babes In Toyland as Themselves, Lori Barbero as Herself (Babes In Toyland), Kat Bjelland as Herself (Babes In Toyland), Nic Close as Himself, Kurt Cobain as Himself (Nirvana), Dinosaur Jr. as Themselves, Don Fleming as Himself (Gumball), Kim Gordon as Herself (Sonic Youth), Mike Johnson as Himself, Dave Kendall as Himself, Michelle Leon as Herself (Babes In Toyland), Courtney Love as Herself, Matt Lukin as Himself (Mudhoney), Thurston Moore as Himself (Sonic Youth), Bob Mould as Himself, Nirvana as Themselves, Mudhoney as Themselves, Krist Novoselic as Himself (Nirvana), Dan Peters as Himself (Mudhoney), Dee Dee Ramone as Himself, Joey Ramone as Himself, Johnny Ramone as Himself, Marky Ramone as Himself, Ramones as Themselves, Lee Ranaldo as Himself (Sonic Youth), Steve Shelley as Himself (Sonic Youth), Eric Vermillion as Himself (Gumball), Sonic Youth as Themselves, David Markey as Himself, Dave Grohl as Himself (Nirvana)
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