Wednesday 12 September 2018


Newly re-issued on blu-ray is the classic punk documentary, D.O.A. A Right of Passage.

Shot by Lech Kowalski, D.O.A. followed the Sex Pistols on their notorious 1978 tour of the USA (their last before the filthy lucre tempted them back in the 1990s), as well as document the punk scene that was thriving in the UK in their absence, with bands such as X-Ray Spex, Generation X and Sham 69 all making waves. Added to that, this film heavily follows Terry Sylvester, frontman for Terry and the Idiots, for whom this film is their moment in the spotlight.

It all starts calmly enough, the quiet before the storm at an Atlanta performance by the Sex Pistols attended by the local youth hoping to see the much hyped new big thing over from England, before erupting into Anarchy in the UK, the lyrics appearing on screen and updated to appeal to the American crowd. Following the performance the camera gets instant reactions from the audience, some loving it and some hating it with opinions ranging from "revolutionary" to "garbage". Either way, it would be hard to imagine that both groups aren't still talking about it to this day.

There's a lot to be said about the Sex Pistols and their commodification by Malcolm McLaren in a way that seems to be the antithesis of what they supposedly stood for. This film captures some of that madness, and the capitalist hypocrisy within the fashion world that ran concurrently with the scene. The Pistols' music and attitude managed to speak to disaffected youth on both sides of the pond and was genuine from the point of view of the band members. In particular, Sid Vicious and his relationship with Nancy Spungen and struggles with drug use play an important part in the film. These are some of the hardest scenes to watch as Sid is near catatonic throughout, their sad story ending with some on screen text to say what happened to Sid and Nancy after filming had finished.

Back in England, with Mary Whitehouse's "anti smut crusader" (as she's billed here) going on tv to talk about how worried she was about the children of the time, the punk scene was thriving with fantastic live performances by X-Ray Spex and Sham 69 caught on camera. There's also Terry from Terry and the Idiots reading out his banana bread recipe for our enjoyment, so a lot of bases are covered. The documentary cross cuts between locations on both sides of the Atlantic and speaks to a lot of audience members expressing their feelings of resentment towards the older generation. D.O.A. shows that a lot of things are universal, and given nearly 40 years of hindsight, are also timeless.

D.O.A. A Right of Passage may be a documentary about punk, but in its presentation is it a punk documentary? Passive observers for the majority of the performances, the one occasion where the documentarian's question is audible, asking an unruly youth with a giant X on his face at a Sex Pistols gig "what do they sing?", ends up with them being spat on. The smartest thing director Lech Kowalski chose to do was not just focus on the Sex Pistols as his subject, although this was possibly a choice made out of necessity due to how hard it would have been to capture usable footage from within their concerts and the guardedness of many members of the group. The inclusion of other bands of the era, including ex-Pistols member Glen Matlock's Rich Kids (featuring a young Midge Ure who contributes a lot to the additional documentary found on this disc), The Clash and Sham 69 in addition to the many vox pops and on street interviews helps to give an overall snapshot of the punk scene as it was.

It's a nice, polished upgrade that looks clean, but not too clean given the conditions it was filmed in. Unlike a lot of the key figures involved, the film (shot on 16mm) has aged gracefully and isn't showing too many signs of its age, including in its scattershot structure. Documentaries covering live music or bands on tour tend to follow a strict narrative pattern that's become somewhat predictable, so it's nice to see that to go along with its punk subject, D.O.A. is appropriately unfocused and unbiased on which bands should receive the most attention and at what point to cut off a live show.

One of the great documents from the punk era that truly managed to capture a little bit of magic and raw intensity from the scene, rather than being dead on arrival, D.O.A. A Right of Passage makes its blu-ray debut looking as alive and vital as it ever did.


Special Features -

- Dead on Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was. - An in depth contemporary documentary that tracks the creation of the original documentary, offering new insights into the filming process and the punk scene as a whole.

- A Punk Post-Mortem. - Interview with co-writer Chris Salewicz

- Limited edition booklet

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