Bloodied but unbowed, a filmmaker captures when Vancouver music & art mattered

Post by Mike Klassen in

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Bloodied But Unbowed: The Skateboard
'Bloodied But Unbowed' limited edition skateboard deck – click for larger

It was January 2007 when Vancouver documentary filmmaker Susanne Tabata visited my office, and she paid me what for her is a high compliment – "you look like you have your sh*t together". She had come by that day to get advice. When she left Tabata probably didn't think that she was was about to embark on a three-year odyssey that would leave her asking if making films in Canada is actually worth the effort.

During our first meeting about her new project it was decided to secure ThePunkMovie.com as the web domain for a documentary film and music compilation that would celebrate the greatest artistic explosion in Vancouver's history. The site is now live and slowly attracting attention to Bloodied But Unbowed, a film that will debut during a feature presentation at Vancouver's DOXA festival on Thursday, May 13th. A page was set up at facebook.com/thepunkmovie, and it immediately attracted hundreds of fans.

The years 1978 to 1983 in Vancouver was a period of infinite importance to the city in terms of defining itself through music and culture. Before that period Vancouver was a quaint port city. And after '83 it had track marks. You won't read about the rise and fall of punk/new wave/hard core on Chuck Davis' vancouverhistory.ca website, or any number of Canadian history texts for that matter. As someone whose own life passed through this scene, Tabata's many connections to the old rockers and charlatans who made music and art then gave her the ultimate access to tell this story.

And according to her there were big issues of trust to overcome. So many of these folks had moved on with their lives, that few wanted to be sought out with someone carrying a video camera. Mary Armstrong, aka Mary Jo Kopechne of The Modernettes is a wild woman who's moved back to the land, carrying a rifle that she shoots quite well thank you very much. Mary lives in the oil country of Alberta and drives a pick-up truck, and would appear to trust no one.

Then there's Bob Rock, who made millions as a sought out rock producer for bands like Metallica and Mötley Crüe. Now living comfortably in Hawaii, Rock – formerly of the Vancouver punk/new wave band The Payolas – remained highly supportive of Tabata's project throughout. Perhaps outdoing Rock's success, and also formerly of Vancouver's punk/new wave scene, Gerry Barad is among the top concert promoters in the world today, and working in Toronto and New York. Gerry is featured in several funny interview clips within Bloodied But Unbowed.

The movie is an ambitious road map of the time period that will amuse old fans of this music, and hopefully inspire new young fans today. The Vancouver captured in Bloodied But Unbowed is a more raw environment, and it would appear that it was a helluva lot more fun.

Like so many Bacchanalian bashes, eventually drug use, old dives and having sex with anything that moved took its toll on the players. Women from the scene, including Armstrong and Tabata herself, seem to have a pretty jaded view of what happened back then. And some of the brightest lights of the scene like Art Bergmann eventually burned out. Art is another refugee living in the hinterlands of Alberta today, and while he has faded from public view his music truly stands the test of time.

There is no other way to characterize the music and art scene of that time than as a bunch of white boys from the suburbs channeling their inner rebels into something meaningful and over the top. Tabata, a Japanese-Canadian gal who grew up in Vancouver, is both filmmaker and foil when it comes to these guys. She admires them but won't believe their bullshit for one minute.

The early origins of the punk scene literally began in a north Burnaby elementary school where Joe "Shithead" Keithley of D.O.A., and Brian "Wimpy Roy" Goble and Gerry "Useless" Hannah of The Subhumans met as kids and quickly began to jam together. Keithley's seminal contribution was to create his band, later with Chuck Biscuits on drums and a wild looking Randy Rampage on bass guitar. Their stories of being on the road could be categorized as X-Rated, and some of them make their way into Tabata's final cut. Susanne's hundreds of hours of recordings are being catalogued on ThePunkMovie.com, with tons of footage and interviews not used within the final film.

B.U.B. divides the story of that period into several sections, including one devoted to the political protest underlying some of the music. Nick Jones of Pointed Sticks however has one of the funniest retorts to the "protest" by saying, hey, we were all middle class kids from the suburbs, are we just mad because the cops poured out our beer?

Of course, there is the art as well as the music. Few might remember that the work of accomplished Vancouver visual artist Jeff Wall began as part of the new wave band U-J3RK5. Also, the ever lovable Jim Cummins (aka I, Braineater) admits to not having been a particularly good musician, but did well by selling his art at concerts.

Ultimately, Bloodied But Unbowed is about a lot of great music. Not before and never since has the city produced so many great records that still hold up today. Young Canadians, The Modernettes, D.O.A., The Subhumans, Pointed Sticks, The Payolas, The Dishrags and tons of great recordings by several other bands are still available for those who seek them out. The great Vancouver Complication set is available on iTunes, and it's hoped that a soundtrack is produced from Tabata's film.

The only thing that is in the way of eventually releasing a DVD edition is financing the music licensing rights, Tabata tells me. To say that making her movie has become a financial burden is an understatement. In spite of having a broadcaster in place for a TV cut (a longer 70-minute theatrical cut is also being prepared), the dollars have been in short supply. Getting this film made has required an immense number of favours, good will and the time of professionals to be completed. Thankfully Tabata's professionalism and her vision were able to make Bloodied But Unbowed (and in my opinion The Punk Movie) a reality.

The film has received generous support from Skull Skates, who have created the original skateboard deck (seen in image above) in tribute of the film. Proceeds from sales of the skateboard will go in support of this important document of Vancouver's past. The premiere screening of Bloodied But Unbowed is taking place in one of the largest movie theatres in the city (The Granville Seven) and is expected to sell out. Many special guests will be in attendance that evening, so if you're interested reserve your ticket today at the DOXA website (as the film is unrated, no minors allowed). The movie's web sponsor is the great VancouverIsAwesome.com.

It's exciting for me that this story is finally being told. It's been a true struggle for Tabata, who both produced and directed Bloodied But Unbowed. Let's hope that audiences around the world finally see the real, raw roots of Vancouver thanks to this work.

- post by Mike

2 Comments

Sneaking into the Commodore and the Smilin' Buddha, Luv-a-Fair, underage but kitted out in punk makeup, girls never got id'd, especially if the crowds were thin in '79 and '80. Getting into the UBC SUB or Thunderbird stadium were easier, but also the Payolas and the Villains were just a little easier to access, musically speaking for middle-class suburban kids, than DOA.
I remember putting on makeup on the bus or in a gas station washroom before hitting the venues, my parents would not have let me out of the house otherwise. I had an asymmetrical haircut, shaved on one side, past the shoulders to a point on the other, that's as wicked as I got, safety pins in my clothes but not through my skin.

The extremes of the lifestyle were not for me, but the music, the music resonated, FM99 for the cool stuff coming out the UK, we could safely connect with the lyrics and the beats.
Think I might have to check out this film, a special time for a lot of Vancouver youth that dipped a toe into the alternative.

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