Five Films That Got Punk Right (According to Actual Punk Bands)

Members of AJJ, The Coathangers, Night Birds, and Greys offer their two cents


    lights camera music final Five Films That Got Punk Right (According to Actual Punk Bands)Ever wonder which movies inspire your favorite bands or how filmmakers work with artists to compile your favorite soundtracks? Sound to Screen is a regular feature that explores where film and music intersect. This time, we asked punk bands which movies got punk right.

    In director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room, opening this week, four kids in a touring punk band find themselves in the midst of their worst nightmare. Coaxed by financial necessity into playing a skinhead bar in the middle of nowhere, they end up locked in the green room after the show with a dead body, an angry white supremacist, and zero chance of making a clean escape.

    (Read: A Conversation with Green Room’s Jeremy Saulnier)

    At least they have one thing going for them. “That green room looks nice!” exclaimed Sean Bonnette of AJJ (fka Andrew Jackson Jihad) after watching the trailer. “My main complaint about green rooms is there’s never any trash can, and I think I saw a trash can in that one. There might have even been a mini fridge.”


    Those extra amenities aren’t all that makes Green Room’s premise seem a bit far-fetched to actual touring punk bands. But those of us who have watched the film seem to have all come away with the same take: This movie gets punk right. Saulnier shows off his love for the scene in the little details, and it pays off with a film that’s all the more fun (and terrifying) because bands can recognize themselves in it.

    Green Room got us thinking about other films that capture the spirit of punk in ways that seem authentic, if not exactly real. So we asked the members of four touring punk bands — Bonnette, Stephanie Luke of The Coathangers, PJ Russo of Night Birds, and Shehzaad Jiwani of Greys — to tell us their favorite movies that “got punk right.” A few of their selections are kind of ridiculous, but that’s kind of the point. Or as Russo puts it, “Punks dress like idiots, so it’s going to look silly.”

    Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

    “I think my favorite movie about punk is Rock ‘n’ Roll High School,” says Bonnette. “It’s incredibly silly. And that silliness, in my mind, makes it probably the most authentic punk movie.” Pressed to name the silliest thing about Allan Arkush’s musical comedy, he responds with a laugh. “Kind of just the fact that the Ramones are in it!”

    The seminal NYC punks are at the height of their powers here, lending their trademark goofiness to a plot that follows rock ‘n’ roller Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) as she and her friends stage a raucous coup of their high school with some help from Joey and the boys. Acting may not be one of the aforementioned powers, but how much can you really ask of a film that represents the platonic ideal of party punk?

    (Read: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Reunion: Do Your Parents Know You’re Ramones?)

    Probably the best thing about Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is just how damn earnest it is in its stupidity. “The thing about punk is that if you take it too seriously, you’re totally missing the point,” says Russo. “Especially when you’re talking about a fictional film. There’s goofy shit that goes on. I mean, that’s all you really have to show.”


    Suburbia (1983)

    The name says it all. Way too many films try to depict punks as one-dimensional urban street rats, totally ignoring the fact that a lot of them grow up trapped in that most dreaded of places: the suburbs. Directed by Penelope Spheeris, this 1983 film follows a group of disaffected kids who band together and squat in abandoned suburban tract homes, developing their own flawed version of a punk utopia.

    “It’s one of my all-time favorite movies,” says Russo. “There are definitely scenes that poke fun at punk and make it kind of this weird exploitation movie, but at the same time, they didn’t hire actors to play punks in that movie.” The film’s cast includes Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (“That dude was legit back in the day! He played bass for Fear!”) and Chris Pedersen, who played guitar in a kind of dopey hardcore band called The Patriots. “You can actually see The Patriots’ spraypaint tag throughout the movie,” Russo notes, and it’s those kind of touches that elevate the film to something more than a punk parody.

    “It’s cool because it’s not like that bullshit episode of Quincy where it’s like, ‘These punks are on the prowl!’ It actually shows every character in the movie as a different sort of person. You have the brutish, violent skinhead dude, you’ve got the dude who’s just messed up on drugs and really fucking up, and then you’ve got the little kid who’s just discovering it. I think that movie doesn’t get enough credit for what it actually is.”


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