If I hadn't already bought it, Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film would be at the top of my Christmas list. Published by Fantagraphics, this work of deranged obsession chronicles every cinematic appearance of a punk rocker, new waver, hardcore kid, or affiliated subcultural weirdo in the 20th century. From authentic punk touchstones like Punk Rock Movie and Suburbia to the freaked-up walking punchlines in nonpunk movies like Major League and Tough Guys, this book covers it all. Editors Zack Carlson and Bryan Connolly spent four years trawling IMdB for "punk" characters and watching thousands of movies, scanning the backgrounds for punkish types. After that ordeal, it's a wonder they still had the mental acuity to talk to us.
When I first got Destroy All Movies, I thought, OK, let's see how comprehensive it really is: does it have the punk on the bus in Star Trek IV? Of course, not only is that scene covered, but there's an interview with the guy who played that character. Turns out that scene made a huge impression on both punks and Trekkies. Was that one of the scenes that inspired the book?
Bryan: Definitely. When we first started this book, that was the first thing I thought of because it was the first punk I saw. I was both baffled and terrified, wondering what the deal is. Who is this person on the bus not listening to other people? Who are these people who don't follow the rules? Don't they have parents? That's what I thought at six years old watching that movie.
Zack: A lot of people had the same reaction you did. For some reason, that guy is the most iconic punk in movies, except maybe the Road Warrior guy.
One of the most impressive examples in the book is the review of Brewster's Millions, where the only punk is an extra in the background who isn't even visible in the pan-and-scan VHS version of the movie. So you'd have to be watching Brewster's Millions on DVD to even catch a glimpse of this character. How on Earth did you find that?
Bryan: That was sort of in the middle of working on the book. We were just fast-forwarding through all these movies where it didn't seem like there'd be many punks. You might find one in a crowd scene or a concert scene. For whatever reason, with Brewster's Millions I was just paying more attention. I don't know why, because it doesn't seem like a movie that would have many punks in it. In one scene I thought I saw something that looked like a mohawk. I zoomed way in until it was pixelated and saw half a mohawk sticking up. I showed it to Zack and said this has to be a punk, right? So we put it in the book. The funny thing is, on tour with the book a month ago we met the girl who plays that punk. She came up and said "Do you have Brewster's Millions? I was in that."
Zack: That girl had been an extra in a lot of movies. She's in the background of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure getting arrested. She'd played a lot of punk extras. She couldn't believe we'd found her in Brewster's Millions.
So did that change how you watched movies? Even after you'd finished working on the book, did you still find yourself scanning the backgrounds for punks?
Zack: We can't stop even now. It's become a depressing compulsion. We can't enjoy a movie the way you would. Actually, it went beyond watching movies. We got so immersed in what we were doing, when we'd take a break to go get a pizza and see a kid riding by on a skateboard with blue hair, we'd try to pause reality.
Bryan: We'd be sitting in Taco Bell and some punk kid would walk in. We'd grab each other. Our hearts would race. Then we'd be like oh, yeah, that doesn't mean anything, this is the real world.
One of the things that surprised me about the book was the sheer number of post-apocalyptic Mad Max knock-off movies, usually made in Italy or elswhere in Europe. It's an entire genre that wouldn't have been possible without the iconography of punk. Is this something you were aware of before you started the book?
Zack: We were aware that Italian filmmakers, when they saw something that could be done cheaply, they'd knock it off. They did it with spaghetti Westerns, they did it with Jaws, and they did it with Road Warrior. Some of those movies are actually great, like Escape from the Bronx. But the surprising thing was that after the Italians did it, the Americans did it.
Bryan: Hollywood realized it was cheap to go to Bombay and shoot some people running around in garbage. So you had these '90s post-apocalyptic straight-to-video movies that are the worst movies ever made.
Zack: Yeah. We say that the Italians took Road Warrior and s**t on it, but then the Americans ate that.
When I was younger, me and my friends were just as likely to enjoy ridiculous, over-the-top movie punks as we were the more authentic portrayals. It was just funny to see somebody with no clue about punk trying to depict people like us. What are your favorite punk movie moments in both the "ridiculous" and "authentic" categories?
Bryan: For authenticity, this might sound weird, but I really like Rock n Roll High School. Especially the concert scenes, where the Ramones are getting into it, doing like five songs in a row. You can see real punks in the crowd, and they're all really excited. Whenever I see that movie, I love those parts. For ridiculous fake ones, I like Amazing Larry in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. It's just this one-second cameo of this crazy old guy. From the moment I first saw it, I was like "Who is that guy? Why is he doing that?"
Zack: We made a big stink about a couple of movies in the book, and both dedications at the beginning of the book touch on your question. My favorite inaccurate punk is King Vidiot in Joysticks (pictured above). He's shockingly and egregiously inaccurate. He acts like a five-year-old kid who just got shot out of a cannon. It's such an incredible performance by an actor with a huge amount of talent and no dignity. And that's absolutely to his credit, that's not an insult. If the script says this character walks through a door, he'd walk through and grab a cat and bite its face. He just doesn't quit. For accurate punks, there are no more real punks than in Suburbia. She cast the early '80s equivalent of gutter punks in those roles. Even though some people say they're very poor actors, in my opinion it's amazing.
(Note: King Vidiot was played by Jon Gries, and Suburbia was directed by Penelope Spheeris, the two people Destroy All Movies!!! is dedicated to - Jason)
So I noticed that a lot of real-life iconic punk figures who are interviewed in the book don't like the movies they're associated with. Ian MacKaye doesn't like Another State of Mind, John Doe of X doesn't like The Decline of Western Civilization, Richard Hell doesn't like Blank Generation. Is it simply impossible to make a movie about punk that punks approve of?
Zack: I don't know how much of that is their criticism of the depiction of punk, and how much is the awkwardness of seeing yourself documented. How many times have you heard a friend say "Is that really what my voice sounds like?" These people have a persona they've established in their music careers, and when you see yourself with motion and sound, it can be awkward. Maybe it's just hard for people to be comfortable watching themselves. If you look at their criticisms, they're not entirely about the movies. There's an awkwardness there but they don't have artistic complaints. Richard Hell was the best - he shot everyone else down but ultimately shoot himself at the end.
Destroy All Movies!!! doesn't cover anything made after 1999. But in the last ten years, there's been something of a flowering of punk movies, with documentaries like American Hardcore and Afro-Punk; biopics about the Germs, the Runaways, and Joy Division; and narrative films about punk characters like This Is England and The Taqwacores. If you do another edition of the book, would you consider expanding it to cover movies from this century, too?
Bryan: Well, stopping at '99 was good because all the '90s movies in the book except Wayne's World 2 were pretty terrible. But the problem I have with those more recent movies is that punk became this nostalgic thing, and there's nothing less punk than being a nostalgic old man. In American Hardcore, it's all "remember when we did this", and I'm like, OK, you sound like my grandpa now. It's nice to have a clean cut at the 20th century. That was when it meant something, and you can see the end of something. If we expanded the book, it would just be another 100 pages of us complaining because we don't have any respect for those people (who made those movies).
Zack: We also wanted to avoid that in this age of Suicide Girls crap, it's turned into this porn thing. I mean, we have adult '80s movies in the book, but I would slit my wrists if I had to watch all the ones made for lonely Dads to masturbate to.
So do you guys have anything in the works now? What's next?
Bryan: We actually just sold a script to Michael Stephenson, who was in Troll 2 and then made that documentary about Troll 2. He's going to direct a script we wrote called Destroy All Vampires. Everything we do is "destroy all" something.
If you're the kind of degenerate who enjoyed this interview, there's more punk-movie action at the Destroy All Movies!!! official site, including movie trailers, other interviews, and funny haircuts. The movie stills and artwork above, all taken from the book, are from (top to bottom): Star Trek IV; Rock 'n' Roll High School; New Barbarians; Joysticks; and My Best Friend Is A Vampire.