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IFC presents

Punk: Attitude (2005)

"Opening people's minds up to other possibilities can only be done with rabid ideas. You're really trying to be polite about it, in a way, and say 'hey, don't you get it?' And generally they don't, and you have to push the boundaries."- John Cale

Stars: Henry Rollins, John Cale, Glen Branca, Dick Manitoba, Tommy Ramone, Arturo Vega, Hilly Kristal, John Cooper Clarke, Dee Pop, Mary Harron, Ari Up, Pete Shelley, Poly Styrene, Paul Simonon, Glen Matlock, Captain Sensible, Marco Pirroni, Keith Morris, David Johansen, Legs McNeil, John Holstrom, James Chance, Jim Jarmusch, Martin Rev, Darryl Jennifer, Chrissie Hynde, Steve Jones, Bob Gruen, Thurston Moore, Howard Devoto, Siouxsie Sioux, Wayne Kramer, Jello Biafra, Roberta Bayley, Mick Jones, Arthur Kane, Sylvain Sylvain, Alice Bag, Roger Miret
Director: Don Letts

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:28m:50s
Release Date: 2005-09-06
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+B-B D-


DVD Review

"As far as why were playing so fast, that's the way we played."
Tommy Ramone

Originally broadcast on the Independent Film Channel in early July 2005, this "punkumentary" (their words, not mine) from Don Letts spends a whirlwind 90 minutes carefully tracing the roots and origins of the punk movement, using the voices of the bands themselves to mold and flesh out the spiky history, in between some truly amazing archival footage of everyone from the Velvet Underground, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Television, The Clash, The Dead Kennedys, Suicide, The Sex Pistols and James Chance, to name just a few.

Letts himself was an integral component of the British punk scene, a Jamaican-born club DJ who is often credited for leading the reggae dub charge that revitalized the sub genre, working closely with The Clash (directing Westway To The World), and serving as a member of Mick Jones' splinter act Big Audio Dynamite. He also directed a ton of music videos, for bands including Public Image Ltd, Black Uhuru, Elvis Costello, The Clash, Funboy Three, The Pretenders and The Pogues, so his presence directing this rock history lesson is a natural fit.

Letts allows a large gaggle of musicians, a few writers, and a couple of directors to fill in the blanks on the roots of the punk movement, drawing evolutionary lines from Jerry Lee Lewis on through The Velvet Underground and The MC5 to the missing links that were The Stooges and The New York Dolls. The CBGB/Max's Kansas City New York birth of what came to be known as punk gets its proper due, and Letts is careful to make it clear that it wasn't the Brits who started it, despite the best attempts by The Sex Pistols puppetmaster Malcolm McLaren to try and convince the world otherwise.

There's a lot of ground to cover and Letts doesn't just stop at the late 1970s, when for all practical purposes punk was long since dead. The movement is further explored in all of its various permutations, as things morphed into No Wave, Hardcore, Straight Edge, eventually lying dormant until Kurt Cobain rose up as the poster boy for a new generation of expressive anger.

Input from some familiar names (Henry Rollins, Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones, Jello Biafra, Jim Jarmusch) is presented right alongside some less famous types (Ari Up, Poly Styrene, Marco Pirroni, Dee Pop, Martin Rev, James Chance), as Letts fills the screen with rare concert footage of just about every influential act, no matter how well known. Somehow, with all the potential for chaos, the historical timeline remains on track, with Letts moving with great speed to string together interview segments that connect the dots on the rock family tree.

I really can't think of a better collective look at the sprawling entity that was "punk" than this historically detailed Don Letts documentary, and the fact that he does it in 90 minutes is even more impressive. It's the whole enchilada too, not just the safety-pin/mohawk period that has now become mainstream teenage fashion, and the voices that speak about it are those who were part of it. Letts pays as much homage to the unsung influences, such as The Screamers, as he does legends like The Clash, and it is actually possible to clearly see and understand the evolutionary leaps that were made.


Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Punk: Attitude is presented in nonanamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, and since it was compiled from a large array of archival footage the quality varies, but that's to be expected. The modern day interview segments look well lit and bright, though a tad soft around the edges.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 surround track doesn't utilize the rear channels too often, but the fronts deliver a deceptively spacious soundstage, with noticeable instrument separation during some segments. A unexpectedly prominent bottom end compliments the music, accenting things with a punchy bass line.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Packaging: Flexbox
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: It's a damn dirty shame there are no extras at all, but the doc itself is so good I can almost forgive IFC.


[Note: This review was written before the release of the two-disc set based on a preview copy and as such did not contain any of theextras apparently found on the formal release. According to, extras include "a 30 minute LA punk scene featurette produced exclusively for the US DVD, Where are they Now and Punk Family Tree, California Screamin' Behind the Masque article, Henry Rollinsinterview, Dave Goodman feature, Fanzines, Fashion, Women in Punk, Record Companies, The Attitude/Spirit of Punk, The Influences/Origins of Punk, Punk on Culture and the Arts, UK versus US, Punk Evolution, The Gigs/Performance and The Punk Sound."

All of that only makes this release even MORE highly recommended. If that'seven possible.]

Extras Grade: D-

Final Comments

An absolutely essential rock documentary, Don Letts' Punk: Attitude is a cumulative history lesson and memory book littered with amazing archival footage assembled with great care and detail. Cohesive, tight and very well done.

One of the year's best, and as such, this one comes about as highly recommended as can be.

Rich Rosell 2005-09-06