'Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk': Film Review

Courtesy of Murray Bowles
An exhaustive oral history of this chapter in punk's evolution.
7/28/2017

Corbett Redford's rock-doc will travel the country alongside Green Day's latest concert tour.

Take this as a sign of the audience for whom Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk is intended: Corbett Redford's documentary, whose genre of choice favors songs in the two-minute zone, runs for over two and a half hours. And even at that length, it contains next to no substantive performance footage, or even extended audio clips. Such is its attention span for interviews with those who created and thrived in this DIY microcosm, a scene that — whatever you think of its most visible export, Green Day — clearly helped change the idea of what punk could mean in social terms. Exec-produced by Green Day and now touring in cities where the band is playing, the film will play well to their fans and to their West Coast contemporaries. But it also has value to all connoisseurs of punk culture, who will recognize the trials faced by a community attempting to put high-minded values into action.

In a prelude, narrator Iggy Pop points out the Bay Area's central place in the antiwar counterculture of the 1960s, then notes how punk attitudes snuck westward from NYC and London to counter the counterculture. While Bill Graham was busy milking aging hippies for money in his San Francisco concert operation, those with edgier tastes had to seek out unconventional venues. Among other oddball spaces where punk took hold, the film introduces Mabuhay Gardens, a Filipino restaurant where shows were booked by a square-looking "pope of punk," Dirk Dirksen.

Happily, the movie continues to pay attention to figures like Dirksen, who were never household names to anyone except those who'd see them at shows and benefit from their enthusiasm. Kids who made zines, recorded unknown bands in their garage rehearsals, took photos and maintained lists of upcoming shows that weren't on newspapers' radar. And it talks to innumerable middle-aged subjects whose now-defunct bands are largely forgotten to music history, taking time to establish each group's personality.

The movie finds its core with the introduction of the late Tim Yohannon, an ardent fan and DJ whose radio show Maximum Rocknroll became a seminal music zine. Using some money made by that publication, Yohannon helped found a club at 924 Gilman Street in West Berkeley, a performance venue that operated as a collective and that (contrary to what punkphobic outsiders might have expected) banned drugs, alcohol and bigotry. The venue took on a life of its own, and the film's interviewees do a pretty good job illustrating how it nurtured (in addition to the usual suspects) bands who embraced feminism, queer identity and racial inclusiveness — and how, on occasion, these feel-good punks had to defend their utopia from the increasing menace of Nazi skinheads.

First-time filmmaker Redford makes sure to get his exec-producers onscreen enough to satisfy fans but not so much that they overshadow acts like Neurosis, Fang, Operation Ivy and Jawbreaker. Green Day's breakout does, however, let the film briefly explore an important theme — the resentment felt by many artists and fans when they decide one of their own has sold out.

The doc won't end that argument — or more fundamental ones about what the hell punk is, anyway — but it makes a credible case that a community can exist and thrive by erring on the side of inclusion rather than expulsion.

 

Production company: Jingletown

Distributor: Abramorama

Director-Producer: Corbett Redford

Screenwriters: Corbett Redford, Anthony Marchitello

Executive producers: Green Day, Pat Magnarella

Director of photography-Editor: Greg Schneider

 

157 minutes

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