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Punk Rock Docs 

Following junkies, musicians, and junkie musicians with gritty realist filmmaker Lech Kowalski

Wednesday, Oct 2 2002
Lech Kowalski is the anti-Nick Broomfield, the opposite of the self-consumed documentarian who inserts himself relentlessly into his own films. Kowalski's a more subtle and striking presence, pitilessly probing subcultures of punk, drugs, and homelessness without moralizing. Born in London in the 1950s to Polish immigrant parents, he immigrated to New York, made his first film at 14, apprenticed in short porn flicks, and eventually excelled at a gritty style of documentary with moments of light. Six of these oft-discussed but rarely seen works are on view under the title "Dirt: A Lech Kowalski Retrospective."

D.O.A. (1980; screening Oct. 4) documents the Sex Pistols' ill-fated tour of the American South in 1978. Energetic performances by the Pistols and others are the obvious lure, but the focus on bleak tableaux of working-class Britain and America goes far in explaining why punk was inevitable. Fans of Nancy 'n' Sid will appreciate Nancy's cosmic whine and Sid's heroin hyperbabble. Born to Lose: The Last Rock N' Roll Movie (1999; Oct. 18) covers related terrain in its raw portrait of rock icon/junk casualty Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls.

The drug plays the lead in the brilliant Gringo (aka Story of a Junkie) (1984; Oct. 4). The nominal star is Johnny Spacely, an articulate, charismatic addict who "treasure-hunts" his way through a pre-Disneyfied New York, skateboarding in and out of dope deals and rat-hole apartments. The denizens of Rock Soup (1991; Oct. 11) are homeless New Yorkers who defend an outdoor soup kitchen and hangout in the Lower East Side against development. In a riveting sequence, eloquent street people, screaming senior citizens, and a numb group of politicians duke it out. The Boot Factory (2000; Oct. 19) moves the grim but lively action to Poland, where three aging punk rockers dance, shoot up, get married, and, of course, make boots.

About The Author

Gary Morris


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