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MOVIE REVIEW

'Punk's Not Dead' knows the turf

Susan Dynner's doc captures the renegade spirit of a grittily durable genre that knows no surrender.

July 27, 2007|John Anderson | Special to The Times

Those averse to mosh pits, stage diving and self-mutilation can still glean something very profound from Susan's Dynner's claw-hammering rock doc "Punk's Not Dead": the anarchic-contrarian ethic of what is probably the most political of pop-musical movements. Country music may rear its well-moussed head among the mainstream every 20 years or so to croon about God and flag, but punk has maintained a steady beat by rejecting it all: Success means failure, melody means compromise, commerce means death. This reviewer once asked a hard-core punker: "So if a band gets radio play, they're over?" The answer: "Pretty much."

So it seems almost counterproductive to say anything conventionally positive about "Punk's Not Dead"; at the risk of alienating its target audience; an ideal print ad might read, "It stinks!"

About as in-your-face and raggedy as its subject, Dynner's film is really less of a history than a psychological profile, rooting around for the meat of what makes punk so resilient, cross-generational and communal. Rage and atonality aside, there's a sense of liberty, equality and fraternity in punk, even if the closest it comes to French is a tongue stud.

Dynner does a tireless survey of punkers young, old and extinct -- the Sex Pistols, of course, and Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and the Ramones, their surviving members and legacies. Things get much more interesting, though, when she circles around to such latter-day, Nirvana-flavored confections as My Chemical Romance, Sum 41 and Good Charlotte, members of which have a solid sense of dissonance but also know how to work the Web for maximum profit. This, if one follows the tradition of the Circle Jerks, is antithetical to good punkness.

A genuine sense of a social movement informs the interviews that Dynner does with such bands as UK Subs, which during one rather comical moment lists all the members who've ever played in the 30-year-old band -- it runs into the dozens.

When bald heads are fashionable, age has less importance and the population of "Punk's Not Dead" ranges from the newly bearded to the pension-expectant -- although any punk rocker who actually planned for retirement was cheating. The acolytes of punk were once described as "hippies with teeth," but judging from some of the people in "Punk's Not Dead," that was dentally optimistic.

"Punk's Not Dead." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Late shows at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. (323) 848-3500.

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