Zack Carlson from Destroy All Movies interview – original version
Zack Carlson from Destroy All Movies interview – original version
If I had to write a book, I wish it’d be exactly like Destroy All Movies!!! Lots of pages and lots of info, huge format, fantastic for quick references. Two heroic writers have encyclopedically listed every movie with a punk character. They defined the period to research (from 1974 to 1999), they decided to watch only English or English subtitled movies (that’s why, for example, you won’t find the Italian La Guerra degli Antò), they chose the parameters, and they started the dirty job. There’s almost everything, documentaries, blockbusters, exploitation movies, b-movies, TV movies. You’ll find Tinto Brass and Troma, Monica Bellucci and Charles Bronson. All the moves are reviewed with lots of details, posters and stills, and the classics like Decline of the Western Civilization, Another State of Mind, Repo Man, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School… are also matched with interviews with directors and actors. Dario Argento put a couple of punks in the background of Tenebre, in the improbable The Day My Kid Went Punk the family has to face the choices of little Terry who becomes punk for girls affairs, in Star Trek IV captain Kirk gets a middle finger from a orange Mohawk punk, who’s immediately put to sleep by Spock… Zack Carlson is a film enthusiast and a blogger, he worked on Best Worst Movie dedicated to Troll 2, and is one of the guys on the cover of Destroy All Movies!!!
SD: Let’s start from the beginning. Which is your personal punk rock/musical background? Austin had Big Boys, Dicks, Butthole Surfers, you still have the SXSW, and you also have Trail of Dead. It doesn’t really look like a bad place to be around…
ZC: I became aware of punk when I was 12 or 13. This was in the late ’80s. I’m old as shit. Before then, I’d seen punks at the K-Mart or whatever, but didn’t understand that it was a lifestyle and there was a musical movement attached to it. I had no concept. As a kid, I’d just assumed these were mentally ill people who dressed like that to terrify me and my grandmother. Anyway, when my first stirrings of independence kicked in around 6th grade, I started becoming interested in buying cassette tapes, and I really enjoyed stuff that was fast and kinda bouncy. This was more bands like Devo or Oingo Boingo, and that led me to the zanier punk stuff like the Dickies, then the Dead Kennedys and the Ramones, and then I was hooked. By the time I was in high school, my friends and I were starting terrible punk bands and spending all our minimum wage earnings on records. In my twenties, I started my own record label — called “Thin the Herd” — and ended up running a record store called Phantom City in Olympia, Washington. It’s still there today.
SD: Then one day, I guess around 2004, you came up with the idea of DAM. I can’t believe nobody tried to stop you guys. Girlfriends, families, good friends, anybody? Besides the music background, which was your cinematographic one? I’ve seen your name on a few blogs, so I guess you knew what was waiting for you…
ZC: The idea for Destroy All Movies!!! came up completely by accident. Bryan and I were working together for this tiny movie theater in Seattle called The Grand Illusion, and we’d coincidentally played two incredible punk movies in the same month span: Penelope Spheeris’ SUBURBIA and the crazed JOYSTICKS. The first was a drama and the second was a new wave boner comedy, so they couldn’t have been more different. But they both reminded me that punk — even just aesthetically — had such a huge impact on people when it was still something new. So Bryan and I started researching for the book, and we got some of our pals to help out. We thought it would take us a year, or maybe two at the most, and then we’d be done with the book. We were idiots. The project took us over seven full years of almost constant work. It ended several of our dating relationships, seriously. We’d come home with trashbags full of the worst movies of the ’80s and ’90s, and whoever we were dating would basically just start looking for the door. It was brutal. Watching the movies wasn’t a treat for me or Bryan either. And we’ve been obsessed with movies our entire lives. But we really had to just slog through the highest and lowest of everything we could find from 1975 through 1999 that even MIGHT have a punk in it. I have to say that this was probably the most torturous film research project we could have ever taken on. I owe everyone in my personal life an apology.
SD: Then, let’s say it’s July 14th 2007, we’re in the middle of this gigantic project which is DAM. How’s going to be this day? How many movies you’re gonna browse? Did you manage to keep a systematic approach in all this work?
ZC: Ha. That’s the first time anyone has ever asked me that. Yes, we were very organized, but in our ridiculous way. Okay, so Bryan and I are each at our respective homes, and we both have two large, heavy duty black trashbags filled with rented VHS tapes and DVDs. There’s a stack of a few dozen movies to the right of the TV, and a small mountain of unwatched movies spilling out of the bags to the left. We just reach in, grab the next movie and throw it in. If the movie takes place in a high school or in New York City, I’d tend to watch it through on normal speed. But if it was just a random film that takes place in, say, Kansas City or Madrid, we had the option to fast forward and look for punks. If there was a large crowd scene, or a character in the movie walked into a packed bar, we’d play the scene through and really scan the corners for punks. If we found one, even just passing by in the background for a millisecond at the very end of the movie, we had to rewind the entire film and watch it properly all the way through so we could give it a fair review. No matter how shitty the movie was. We’d take thorough notes on the film in a notebook and then type up our reviews after we’d watched that batch of movies. Then, after the bags of movies were depleted, we’d pack them up and drive an hour to Scarecrow Video, the world’s largest video store, and grab another four bags of videos. This happened every two weeks. Plus I was constantly buying VHS tapes and bootleg DVDs online so we didn’t miss anything. The really painful thing was that maybe one movie out of every 15 to 20 we watched had a punk or new waver in it. So we basically had a 5% success rate. Meaning that we spent six years doing full-time viewing research, mainly watching movies we hated, and only three months of that was applicable to our book. Jesus christ. That’s depressing. There went my early thirties.
SD: And finally, 2010, you’ve got all the proof sheets, book is ready to be printed, what was your final worry? Any last minute trouble? Did you party after all?
ZC: We were so excited to be done with it that we couldn’t think of anything else. The book had consumed our lives, and the lives of other contributors like Spenser Hoyt and Kier-la Janisse and many of the writers listed in the book. We of course were nagged by the fact that we were going to miss a couple punks here and there, but there’s no way we were going to catch them all. I mean, imagine if you set out to write a guide to Every Movie That Has a Blue Car In It. It’d be really hard. Believe me. Bryan and I celebrated together in an incredibly nerdy way. We love movies of all eras, but especially the ’40s through ’80s. Because the book covers movies that exist from the beginning of the punk era on, we hadn’t been able to watch anything made before 1975. Bryan’s a tremendous fan of classic comedy teams, and we both love “golden age of Hollywood” directors like Preston Sturges and Douglas Sirk, and wingnut ’60s filmmakers like Robert Downey Sr. and Timothy Carey. We’re crazy for all this stuff, but we’d imprisoned ourselves in the mid-’70s through the rotten ’90s for almost a decade. We were starved to watch something by the Marx Brothers or ANYTHING like that. So we set aside an entire day and just watched The Three Stooges and Ernie Kovacs shorts and Munsters episodes, etc. It was more satisfying than you’d ever believe. I guess that’s pretty pathetic. Most people would go out and get drunk and go wild and tear the roof off, but we were watching Laurel & Hardy. Punk!!!
SD: For all the newbies, which are the 3 / 4 essential movies from the book that have to be seen?
ZC: I guess I already mentioned my two favorites, but I’m always happy to talk about them some more. Penelope Spheeris’ SUBURBIA is just the best movie I’ve ever seen, punks or not. But it just so happens that it’s entirely about punks living in LA. It was shot using genuine punk kids and it really casts an intelligently sympathetic light on their struggles. It’s incredible. Not to be confused with the bullshit ’90s movie that was also called SUBURBIA. That one’s a major pile. JOYSTICKS is also incredible, but it’s the least serious movie you will ever find in your life. It’s just a goofy comedy about a video arcade, but one of the lead villains is a new wave maniac named King Vidiot. He has a legion of followers called his Vidiots, who are garish new wave ladies who act like robots, and the entire group is hooked on playing arcade games like some people are hooked on drugs. The King Vidiot performance is one of the most hypnotically misguided, ridiculous things ever caught on film. You must see it. Bryan would kick my buns if I didn’t mention the movie MADAME WANG’S, which was by far his favorite discovery while researching for the book. It was made by Paul Morrissey, who previously worked with Andy Warhol, but it’s a shockingly unpretentious semi-comedy about a German spy slipping into San Francisco’s punk underground. There are too many to mention. The book covers 1100 films! I mean, anyone interested in punk movies definitely needs to start with CLASS OF 1984, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – THE FABULOUS STAINS, REPO MAN, TIMES SQUARE, THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION…these are all the more obvious titles. But there are infinite levels of lesser known stuff that’ll split your skull. SURF II, TCHAO PANTIN, BORED TEENAGERS, the Filipino movie HOT SHOTS, NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE. No punk could watch Mexico’s INTREPIDOS PUNKS without losing their mind. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
SD: Personally I really loved to find out about lost documentaries and all the interviews thru the books, but which was the best part for you in the process?
ZC: The interviews were fun, and it was mostly pretty great to meet and/or talk to some of these people that I’d respected for so many years. But I have to say the best part of the entire process was just the constant discoveries we made. We found so many movies that we now love. And it was a non-stop treasure hunt; I was always looking for videos, interview contacts, movie posters for the book’s images. It never stopped.
SD: Is there any project to put online all the DAM resource? Anything that could be updated with what was possibly left behind, or even with the last decade titles?
ZC: We thought about it, but we really like the tactility of a book. Neither one of us is a fan of the internet, or of technology at all. We’re too broke to have fancy phones or computers, and too caveman-like to ever touch an Ipod or anything. All that crap just bores us. So we decided to just leave it as a book, which looks nicer anyway. There haven’t been all that many missed titles that have popped up, but if we find enough, we figure we can just put out an updated version in 30 years when the book is long out of print. If people still know how to read by then.
On a side note, I read your quick note on the 21st century movies, but I’d like you to take a little of time to talk about this last decade. The Edge of Quarrel movie is the first I can think of, the last few years also saw a bunch of documentaries coming out, but what do you personally think is worth a try?
ZC: I was part of the punk scene in Seattle, but I really wasn’t into THE EDGE OF QUARREL. It was weirdly frat-like and macho and the female characters were just treated as meat, which is always just stupid. There have been some good punk-related movies in the last decade, mainly — as you said — some really strong documentaries. I thought the Ramones film was great, and I loved the Minutemen documentary WE JAM ECONO. And I think FRIENDS FOREVER definitely falls in the punk category. But frankly, punk’s portrayals got more and more depressing as punk became more of a familiarity to people. By the time 200 hit, Warped Tour crap was in full swing and kids were buying Rancid sweatshirts at the mall, so we weren’t really dealing with as much of a “movement,” and it seems less important to document the stuff that was happening at that time. I mean, even the great 21st century documentaries we just talked about were usually covering stuff from the ’70s and early ’80s anyway, and that says a lot.
SD: We could also discuss that 21st century, with all the alt-porn web stuff, also saw the entrance of a sometimes classic image of punk in the porn world. Did you come across something like that researching for DAM or was that intentionally out of question?
ZC: To hell with that bullshit. Nothing could depress us more. Punk was mortally damaged as soon as it became an image that was marketed to suburban dads so they could have “something new” to look at while they fondled their soft wangs. Anyone involved in or even watching that Suicide Girls-styled garbage should be shot in the face.
SD: Did you notice if the European/Asian movies generally tend to deal with the punk theme in a different way than the Americans?
ZC: I can’t say yes across the board, but it’s fair to say that different cultures reacted to punk differently, and found unique ways to depict it. Some of the early Asian punk movies like CRAZY THUNDER ROAD treat punks the way ROAD WARRIOR did; they’re post-apocalyptic people that just happen to live in a pre-apocalyptic world. I really loved that. Then there are a lot of films from Europe where punks aren’t shown in that animalistic light at all. They’re just shown as people. Big Hollywood studios were by far the stupidest when it came to the way punks were presented in narrative films. They were just used as brightly colored filler, for the most part.
SD: In your movies research did you find anything strange or quite unknown that falls in the “punk in books” or “punk in advertisement” category? Books, I personally know quite a lot of them, advertisement, that’s not so easy…
We tried to stick pretty close to our immediate subject as we had our hands full enough just dealing with that, but we did end up stumbling across some pretty insane stuff outside of the movie realm. For example, the chewing gum company Bubble Yum has a mascot that’s just a punk rock goose. Maybe he’s a duck; I’m not certain. But he has a studded collar, a nosering, and a spiked punk mohawk. For no goddamn reason. And this is still the way their bubble gum wrapper looks in 2011. I also found an ’80s issue of Archie Comics where Jughead completely alters his image and goes punk. He decides that his name is no longer Jughead; it’s now “Thrash.” Archie is seriously depressed by all of this. The craziest punk product I found was a pinball game from ’83 that was just called “PUNK.” It’s an entirely punk-themed board, with paintings of mohawked men and new wave ladies and “RAMONES” spraypainted on the playing field. It’s absurd and totally incredible. The manufacturer only made a few hundred. No one wanted it. I became so fascinated by its stupidity that I had to own one. It took me over three years to save up for one but I finally have it in the house, and it arrived two months after the book went off to the printers. That was a good feeling.
SD: You did this for punk rock, but is there a different culture that may deserve a similar treatment? Something you saw during the research, that might have as many references as punk rock to talk about?
ZC: None of us ever want to do anything like this again for as long as we live.
SD: For what I see around, you’re also one of the writers of an upcoming movie called Destroy! Can we have a few details about that? And – obviously – does it feature any punk on the plot?
ZC: That movie’s written by me and Bryan. And no, there are no punks. There are a couple goths, but only so we can make fun of them. Actually, it all takes place in rural Bavaria and most of the characters are old German men who are being horribly murdered. It’s a comedy.
SD: I can understand why you had to stick to a quite classic image/aesthetic of punk in the DAM projects, fact is punks that still today choose that same aesthetics are nearly what was more or less ironically depicted in most of the movies you talk about. Can you see a little irony in this?
ZC: Of course. It’s hilarious! But in a way, it also makes sense. Hollywood irresponsibly created these outrageous, almost cartoon-like visual caricatures of what they thought punks were. But then impressionable kids — many in small towns — saw these movies and were impressed by what those images, so they adopted some of those aesthetics into their own fashion. Then other kids saw this look and adopted it, and so on. Life imitates art. Even stupid, stupid art. I mean hell, I had pink hair in high school too, and I got the shit kicked out of me for it, so I’m as stupid as anyone.
(Txt by Marco Capelli x Salad Days Mag – All Rights Reserved)