Punks, Poseurs and RednecksBy Jeff Roberts
Written and directed by James Merendino
With Matthew Lillard, Michael A. Goorjian
S.L.C. Punk! is an interesting movie. I didn’t say good, I didn’t say bad, I said interesting.
The story takes place in Salt Lake City, Utah (S.L.C. of the title), and it simply follows the lives of two young punk anarchists named Stevo and Heroin Bob -- whoa, wait a minute. This sounds like a rip-off of a Kevin Smith movie. Well, one might think so, but one has to keep in mind that Kevin Smith doesn’t have a copyright on movies following the daily trials of a young man and his best friend. This is a film by James Merendino, and it’s based on his own experience as a rebellious youth living in conservative Salt Lake City during the Reagan era. S.L.C. Punk! is, loosely speaking, a “period film,” taking place fourteen years ago, though at times I did fool myself into thinking it’s a modern-day story (an easy mistake to make due to the resurgence of punk culture in the 90s).
I don’t know whether this movie was supposed to be a comedy or not. I didn’t laugh once, although there were some parts, mostly violent parts, which may have been intended to be funny. There were maybe a dozen people at this screening, and I remember only one loud giggle coming from someone behind me during a part of the movie which didn’t seem particularly funny. I think he may have been thinking of something else.
Most of the story is presented as the first-person narrative by Stevo, played by Matthew Lillard (of Scream fame). It includes both monologues delivered directly by Stevo and other peripheral characters to the camera and voice-over narration, in which Stevo comments on the on-screen events. This makes the narrative a little confused, but that tends to fit nicely with its subject matter. Confusion is a major theme of the story: Stevo begins by commenting that “the world is confused,” while his own confusion is the film’s main focus. Altogether, the way the story was presented was unusual and somewhat interesting. To me, it felt like watching a book. You have a narrator, and you see everything he thinks about, and you don’t get any other perspective but his. Dialogue isn’t a strong point in this movie, but the narrative seems to work well anyway.
To spice the things up, Merendino makes use of some elaborate visuals. This is a heavily edited movie, full of quick cuts, fades, and crane shots coming from nowhere. Most of the peripheral monologues I mentioned before are presented in short segments quickly edited together. This follows from the idea that everything is from Stevo’s perspective, and he only remembers parts of the others’ stories. One particularly jumbled scene takes place while Stevo is tripping on acid. The camerawork also contributes to the theme of confusion and chaos.
Other production aspects are also notably catchy. The costumes are great to look at and true to what little I know of punk couture, and the soundtrack, featuring The Ramones, The Specials, The Dead Kennedys and others (with some smattering of classical music) is a veritable tribute to old-school punk music. These aspects might be appealing to those interested in the punk culture. However, the message the film delivers is less laudatory of this culture than it is critical.
Probably my favorite scene in the movie is a moment of senseless violence. As a fight is just breaking out between the punks and the rednecks, the frame freezes and Stevo calmly explains why the various “tribes” in young society -- the punks, poseurs, rednecks, mods, hippies, and skinheads -- all regularly fight with one another. He goes on to say that when violence erupts, structure automatically forms and fighting becomes factional. When factions form, government is created, and government is order. Thus chaos leads to order. All in all, a nicely packaged statement criticizing the theory of anarchy. This film also explores the issues of romantic love and relations between ex-hippie parents and their punk children. It points out all of the hypocrisies in the punk culture, and it hits the viewer with every question a rebellious youth might ask himself upon growing up and thinking about his future. Like an essay, it says as much as it can, in this case possibly too much, and reaches a predictable conclusion. But in saying that this film is nothing more than an essay, one must admit that it’s not a bad one.
I personally didn’t think S.L.C. Punk! was that great, but I admit that it had a lot going for it. If you like the look of punk clothes and the sound of punk music, you might find it more enjoyable than I did. If you like tricky cinematography, this would probably be a good film for you. If you like good comedy, then there are definitely better films to watch. But there is plenty of sex, drugs, and violence, if that’s what you’re looking for. In general, if you’re interested in thinking about the realities of rebellious youth, then I recommend that you check it out. It was at least an educational experience for me. And it’s short. One hour and forty minutes is plenty of time to deliver the message. I’m glad I saw this movie, but if it were longer I might have been a little upset.