Spokane Music Scene Doc Alienating and Confusing

by Nick Spacek on July 2, 2012

in Blu-ray/DVD Reviews,Reviews

“It’s the world’s largest hick town.”

spokanarchy-movie-poster-2011Arguably, the insular nature of Spokane, Washington — isolated as it was — is what the music-scene documentary SpokAnarchy! (out now on DVD) is attempting to represent and reproduce. Unfortunately, it comes off as being a tale of people you’ve never heard of, referencing people with whom they’re familiar, but you’re not.

The music is presented as being in a vacuum, and evolving as such. There’s no frame of reference other than the stories of those involved, and it makes it difficult to become invested in what’s happening onscreen. (Depending on where its referenced, the movie also credits anywhere from three to six co-directors.)

The major failing of the film comes down to the fact that SpokAnarchy! tells a lot more than it shows. The majority of the film consists of interview footage with people telling stories, and performance footage is minimal. What is extant is frequently presented silently, with voiceover audio. The film starts out with plenty of live performance footage, but quickly becomes a series of talking heads.

Perhaps the “hick” nature of Spokane meant that folks didn’t have access to video cameras. Nonetheless, people talking about shows will never be as informative as seeing the shows happen. Hell, there’s not even very many photos. A still image would be more illuminating than watching a bunch of dudes sitting on a couch. Never has a movie about music featured so little in the way of performances. A Ken Burns doc has fewer talking heads than this.

spokanarchy-2011-documentaryThe standard narrative tropes of music documentaries require that, being as how the majority of the viewing audience might not be familiar with all of the players, you want to associate names with faces. When somebody mentions a person, you then cut to that person telling their side of the story. Names and faces become entwined, and relationships are delineated.

Rarely, if ever, is this done, leading to SpokAnarchy! developing so little empathy and story that by the time heroine is introduced, and people who died are spoken of, you have no emotional response. “Who are these people, and why should I care?” was the only thought passing through my mind. The narrative is so lacking, you simply don’t give a damn, with the same going for the reunion footage at film’s end.

Also confounding and exacerbating the problem is that none of the bands of people featured in the film ever went on to any great success. The music and scene are obviously important to those who were involved, but never do the filmmakers demonstrate the importance or influence of these musicians in the greater American music culture. Spokane acts rarely toured, nor did they release anything to the country as a whole.

When the most familiar piece of music in the film is Keyboard Cat, it’s difficult to make the argument that this film appeals to anyone outside the Spokane area.

Nick is a self-described “rock star journalist,” which is strange, considering he’s married with two kids and three cats. This is just further proof that you can’t trust anyone online. In addition to his work for Scene-Stealers, Nick can be found bitching about music elsewhere on the Internet at his blog, Rock Star Journalist, and as Music Editor for The Pitch.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stanton McLeod July 3, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I have always enjoyed documentaries about music scenes. So when I received this DVD and it’s soundtrack I was excited to watch it. Spokanarchy! is about the 80s era Spokane Washington punk rock scene. Before seeing this film I had seen the documentary “Hype” which was about the Seattle 90s era music scene. And I had no idea that during the 80s that eastern Washington had such a thriving and great punk rock scene.

We get interviews with at least 15 different bands. And through them we are told the history of the punk scene in that era. It seems that Spokane was a forgotten city. No big concerts came to the city. So the kids started up their own clubs to play music at. One of the places that most of the bands played was an old auto body shop called Moes. But sadly the place ended up getting closed down by some conservative forces.

Through out the film,we get to see all kinds of live footage. Which captures the raw emotion and power of the music. Two bands that stood out to me are Sweet Madness and Terror Couple. Sweet Madness has a very pop sound,but without the cleaned up sound that most pop bands have. And Terror Couple has a more standard 80’s era punk rock sound. From the various interviews we learn that Sweet Madness is the band that really started the whole scene in Spokane. And I can see why,they have a infectious energy that makes me want to sing along.

But the documentary isn’t all happiness. We get to see how heroin infected the scene and almost killed it. We get a chilling scene where one guy is shown shooting up. And you get to see the scars and track marks all over his body. Now I have always had a major fear of needles,and seeing him shoot up into his scared up and damaged foot freaked me out.

The DVD also has a great slide show that has plenty of zines and flyers from that era. It was lots of fun to see these. I have always had a love for DIY zines and flyers and these didn’t disappoint. There is also a trailer,a short film plus the Spokane reunion that took place a few years ago.

This documentary easily is in my top 10 music based documentaries of all time. It is a great time capsule of a music scene that I doubt most people outside that area knew much about. After watching it,I ran to my computer ripped the soundtrack and put it on my MP3 player. The soundtrack has 16 tracks from 13 bands. The standout tracks are. Sweet Madness-I need Electricity,Terror Couple-This is Spokane,Fuck LA,S&M-Overdose OK,TFL-Sharon Tate and Sweet Madness Concrete River. The rest of the songs on the soundtrack are OK. But the above mentioned ones are what caught my attention.

So to sum it all up,If you are a fan of documentaries,punk rock music or just music in general this is a DVD you need to see. Spokanarchy! gets a A-.


2 Jamie Luce July 3, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Expecting punk and Anarchy to adhere to a traditional documentary style is futile!


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