Directed by Don Letts. UK. 2005.

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Trying to describe punk is like trying to discern the multifarious origins of the projectile vomit it gleefully unleashed upon its audiences. Was it just an extreme reaction to the sugary domination of disco in the late 1970s or was it more fundamentally an anarchistic movement that sought to change civilisation and society, as we know it?

Don Letts’ new DVD features a 90-minute documentary about punk music and through interviews with punks tries to pin down the origins, influences and lasting impact of punk.

One argument is that Elvis, Chuck Berry and the like were punk because anything that creates a radical change in thinking or style is punk. This allows virtually anything, especially in the mercurial world of pop music, to be punk. I rest my case with the fact that Blondie was regarded as a punk group. Compare and contrast them with Britain’s own Sex Pistols, and you can see that punk even at its peak in 1977 was a fairly nebulous entity that was able to embrace anything that was different from the mainstream.

I never wore spiked hair or put pins in my extremities but I liked the punk attitude that anyone could become an overnight sensation and have an influence on everyone’s lives. What punks lacked in talent they made up for in raw energy and drive. It wasn’t just about music. The Sex Pistols became more famous for saying the f*** word on TV than for any of their rancid songs. Today we can tell how much has changed since nearly every celebrity TV chef uses the f**** word as one of the essential ingredients of their vocabulary.

What is most disappointing about punk is that it soon came and went. It was a media firestorm - even the Pistols called it a ‘swindle’ - that killed off some of its most colourful characters and those that have survived now grub around for any C-list celebrity job going. 

Punk: Attitude encapsulates a period that will either bring on a glow of nostalgia for some and sheer bewilderment for the rest of us.

Nigel Watson
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