The Wire

December 2005




London Curzon Soho


By Sam Davies


As a filmmaker Dave Markey has had both good timing and bad luck.  Having embarked on a Super 8 film career at the age of 11, Markey got into the drums and through them the post-punk scene of LA in the early 80s when Black Flag, Saccharine Trust, and The Minutemen were flourishing like so many weeds.  As well as becoming SST's informal in-house filmmaker, he made a pair of hilarious, low-budget, sacred-cow slaying features (Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and Lovedolls Superstar from 1984 to 1986), which sent up both the mainstream and the underground LA music scenes, religion, modern celebrity and threw in a good dose of John Water's scabrous trash aesthetic for good measure.  This leas to several collaborations with Sonic Youth, the chief being 1991: The Year Punk Broke, a pungent, potent tour film best seen as Cocksucker Blues reimagined for the American underground.


The bad luck lies in the feeling that all these projects have marginalized Markey as a filmmaker in his own right, in the sense that he is still best known through his musical connections.  Desperate Cinema addressed this adroitly, collecting a string of shorts including a string of shorts, including an extensive post-script to The Year Punk Broke entitled (This Is Known As) The Blues Scale, and a long warped look at Black Flag on the road to present a coherent picture of Markey’'s work as a whole.


The shorts opened with an impossible fresh-faced and breezy Markey trailing Desperate Teenage Lovedolls in front of a kid’'s playground (“my favorite hangout!”) and followed it up immediately with classic Black Flag (the full seven minute mania of Slip It In).  In a tidy thematic segue from the trailer, Markey visually translates the group into a fraught high school class(room) war, akin to Alice Cooper directing The Breakfast Club.


Popcorn and Macaroni & Me (both 1988) were the truly out there core of the collection. Popcorn follows a grotesquely masked vagrant through various vacant lots and underpasses in LA, as he cooks popcorn over a dustbin and masturbates next to the freeway.  Macaroni & Me functions with a similar dream logic.  A lugubrious band (Redd Kross) busks in black and white; fed macaroni by a mysterious stranger, they are transported individually to their own Technicolor romantic scenarios.  It’'s not entirely clear whether they are dreams or nightmares.  Both pieces are dialogue-free but feature apposite car crash collages of backing music.


Adolf 1990 (1990) features an actor in a monstrous Hitler mask in split-screen on a directionless odyssey, as oppressively repetitive as the stamp of jackboots.  It would have made for a better closing note than a run of three workman like music videos for the Posies, The Muffs, and Eyes Adrift.


(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale was most likely the draw for many people and didn't disappoint.  Put together for the projected DVD release of The Year Punk Broke, the piece is called a postscript by Markey, an inadequate word given it’'s nearly half as long as the original.  Formally, the two are identical, alternating between backstage and live footage with the jerky immediacy of the handheld camera.  Thurston Moore free-associates gibberish or dispenses long, mock-serious meditations on the scene and catering.  There are intense early blasts through Dirty material (Chapel Hill and Orange Rolls, Angel’'s Spit) which only suffer a bit from murky sound.


The rarely seen Black Flag tour film Reality 86’'d was a surprise inclusion.  Grueling sidewalk sets baffle pedestrians and deadpan debates on bass headstocks and groupies in different states bait indie liberals.  The group’'s relentless, near brutal drive offered an insight into Markey’'s own motivation and his longevity as an underground filmmaker.