Roger Ebert's maxim is to review the film you're given, not the one you wish you were watching. But halfway into American Hardcore I found myself wishing the documentary wasn't about the American hardcore punk "movement" at all, but about the band Bad Brains.
Somewhere between all the little white guys with their neatly-buzzed scalps, the music that (hate to say it, but it's true) all sounds the same, the footage of Henry Rollins goading a fan to throw the first punch only to thump the bejeezus out of him when he finally complies .... is this guy ... this black guy ... wearing a suit, sitting in a park telling the camera, "We were about positive energy ... I told the band to do some reading ... the Bible, of course. But also this book by Napoleon Hill." Yep. Think And Grow Rich. The rest of these jokers didn't care if they ever got signed to a label, said outright that it wasn't even on their radar ... but this black band, that could actually play their instruments, wanted to think and grow rich.
I kinda-sorta knew about Bad Brains, back in the day. The vintage clothing store I frequented would play reggae and ska, and the Brains had at least one album that fell into that category. I'd also been to a party where a group of young guys were intent on reducing a kitchen chair to matchsticks, and, again, Bad Brains was providing the soundtrack -- albeit one that wasn't nearly so laid back. The latter is actually their earlier sound. It has an infectious energy to it, and the footage of their concerts reveals a band that really tears up the stage. The Brains are given single-handed credit for kicking off the Hardcore Punk movement, which must surely qualify as one of the most bizarre geneses of a sub-genre in the history of rock and roll. The Brains started off with no shortage of anger, but were also much too musically talented and aware to get pigeon-holed as punk. Throw in a front man whose informing passion was a restless spiritual pursuit, and eventually you wind up with a band that seethes, but grudgingly obliges their leader's insistence they become rastafarians.
The closing interviews with band members include the expected, "Ah, you know I love [singer] H.R., but he could make things just too crazy. I kind of understand it now, but it was difficult at the time."
I'll bet it was. And that's the film I want to watch.