Movie Reviews: February 1992, Issue 50

Movies Reviews: February 1993


1991: The Year Punk Broke

directed by Dave Markey, Tower Theatre, March 19, 20, 26 & 27

What Woodstock was to the music of the sixties and what This Is Spinal Tap was to heavy metal, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, may be to today’s alternative music genre. A chronicle of the Sonic Youth/Nirvana European tour of the summer of 1991, this film provides a documentary of those bands just prior to their ascendancy into mainstream this year. 

Super low budget, Dave Markey (Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedoll Superstars) used Super-8mm footage in both black & white and in color to capture the raucous, disheveled, self-mocking, noncommittal and ironically triumphant alternative-rock posing of the last season of these bands as insider idols. The film has all the predictable elements of a tour documentary: shaky hand-held camera work, backstage hijinks (Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth applies lipstick and mascara to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain), uncomprehending interviewers, wary tourism and unpolished live performances.

The film is for those who already appreciate the genre; in addition to Sonic Youth and Nirvana, featured acts include Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, Gumball and The Ramones. There’s no holding back the power of the music, although the bands make absolutely no effort to endear themselves to their fans. Knocking over equipment and fellow band members, turning backstage scenes into parodies of Madonna‘s “Truth or Dare,” the musicians appear to undercut themselves.

For all the sarcasm spouted by the musicians as they played various outdoor festivals, they couldn’t know the extent of their subsequent success. Thus, the historically-inclined might enjoy seeing Sonic Youth and Nirvana cavorting backstage, right on the cusp of Nirvana’s mass-market, multi-platinum breakthrough in the United States.

At the very least, the film shows the resuscitated spirit of rock and rock in all of its rebelliousness. Sonic Youth plows into a reckless version of “Teenage Riot,” plays a thrilling “Kool Thing,” and spins into a jarring “Expressway to Your Skull.” Nirvana lead singer/guitarist Cobain kicks over his drummer’s kit at the end of one thrashing number, and the band careens through an offhand take on what was to soon become their hit single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

1991: The Year Punk Broke will be showing late nights at the Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South, on March 19, 20, 26 and 27. The film is 99 minutes and is not rated.

Check out more from the SLUG Archive:
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The Malady Of Immortality: Bram Stroker’s Dracula