Reality Finally Sets In, in 2011

The mighty black flag

Dave Markey is having quite a renaissance lately. Last month, Flywheel hosted a showing of his documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke, featuring a q and a session with no less than Thurston Moore.

1991 is an epochal documentary that shows Nirvana (just before they were Nirvana), Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. firing on all cylinders across the Europe summer festival scene. While I’m sure Nirvana is the selling point, rest assured that 1991 features some positively searing Sonic Youth performances.

In the fall, the documentary is being released on DVD for the first time. With bonus footage (naturally).

That’s exciting, but this is positively shocking.

Dave Markey was the drummer in Painted Willie, a so-so band that made the rounds across America with pioneering punk band Black Flag on their final tour. Markey documented the tour on his Super-8 Camera, and edited it into a documentary known as Reality 86’d.

That’s where the story stalls.Henry Rollins, Joe Cole

Flag guitarist Greg Ginn, who was Black Flag (lead songwriter, longest standing member, neurotic control freak) has blocked the film’s release for 25 years. I’m not entirely sure why; I always presumed it was because it made Ginn look like a jerk.

Imagine my surprise when the film shows up online last week.

The result is relatively underwhelming. Markey’s style is obvioulsy in its infancy here, and is probably best served by the particularly low-fi quality of the footage. He’s in his element here, capturing raw footage and making neat visual collages out of multiple sources of footage. It’s not bad, but it’s not quite as refined as his later work.

I still can’t figure out what Ginn’s problem with this film is. The Black Flag performances vary in quality from ragged to roaring: same goes for Ginn’s instrumental side-project, Gone. Gone feature 2/3 of what would become Rollins Band, and they’re capable of some highly refined instrumentation….. and some really overplayed and boring ideas. I guess that’s Greg Ginn for you; Black Flag oftentimes suffers from the same problem.

The film makes its subjects look like, at worst, innocuous knuckleheads. Really, it paints Black Flag as a punk Grateful Dead- stoners with an affinity for fine live sound taking copious amounts of drugs, touring across the country with a motely cast of characters, playing their hearts out. A notable difference is that Jerry Garcia looks pretty cuddly next to Henry Rollins, who is deep into his alienated artist/raging prick schtick in this film.

At the end of the day, Reality tells the story of Black Flag as it should be told: on the road. Black Flag were trailblazers in music not just philosophically but physically. Through relentless touring, they basically created the underground network in America that allowed American punk to blossom in the 1980s, burning down everything in their path like General Sherman.

Check the film out here.

Author: Affluent White Male

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