Anytime Fantagraphics publishes something outside of its core alternative comics foundation, I take note because it’s often quirky and entertaining as hell reading. That’s definitely the case with Destroy All Movies!!!: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film, co-edited by Zack Carlson & Bryan Connolly. The book strives to be the “most dazzlingly insane film reference book of all time … an informative, hilarious, and impossibly complete guide to every goddamn appearance of a punk (or new waver!) to hit the screen in the 20th Century”. To get a taste of the book, watch a video flipping through it; or take a gander at the introduction as well as a 24-page excerpt of the book. Once you’ve had a chance to read my email interview with Zack & Bryan, consider the current deal that Fantagraphics is offering, where you can save 20% if you buy Destroy All Movies!!!, along with Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box.
Tim O’Shea: I love book dedications for the stories potentially behind them. What’s the story behind this “Dedicated to PENELOPE SPHEERIS and JON GRIES for inspiring this project and countless others.”
Zack Carlson: Spheeris’ 1984 film SUBURBIA is by far the best movie I’ve ever seen, and Jon Gries’ performance in JOYSTICKS is a true display of subhuman wildness. Bryan and I watched both of these movies in a short span, and the realization of their sheer power planted the seed for this book that would devour our lives for seven years. We should sue!
O’Shea: How did it come about that Richard Hell wrote the intro to the book?
Zack: He was someone that we were really hoping to even just get an interview out of, though expectations were pretty low considering his prominence in the music and art community. I mean, we couldn’t even get Emilio Estevez to call us for a REPO MAN interview, so what shot did we have for Richard Hell?
Surprisingly, he responded quickly and was very easy to deal with. I’d initially promised him that it’d only take 30 minutes, but we ended up talking for 90. For someone who gets approached so often, he was incredibly open and seemed to have a great time with the interview.
When the time came to ask someone for a foreword, he was easily the first choice. He’d been there for the beginnings of punk, had appeared in several narrative films and documentaries, is well-spoken and funny. We just didn’t know if he’d say yes.
O’Shea: The book was designed by Jacob Covey, did you have any input in the design, or did you just trust Covey to create the best design for you?
Bryan Connolly: The man is a genius. Look at the book. It’s gorgeous. We knew we wanted hot ’80s pink and we knew what images we wanted to go with what, but that layout is all him. I truly love it.
Zack: Jacob and I spent many, many nights on the phone until 3 AM working out details. He’d call and say, “I need 14 more images for the D section!” and I’d get crackin’. He was definitely the entire force behind the book’s visual power. All the funny touches — like the pink skull superimposed over Bernie’s face for the Weekend at Bernie’s II image — that was all him. He is the king.
O’Shea: Can you talk about the editing process for the book, how did you go about deciding what to include and dividing up editorial responsibilities on the project?
Zack: I mean, we basically had to just watch as many movies as humanly possible, as long as they were made between 1975 and 1999. And we were dead set to include as many punk/new wave appearances as we could. Punks can pop up in almost anything besides a period piece or a western, so we had our hands full. Bryan and I each scanned through at least 7000 movies in the last seven years, and our friend Spenser did almost as many himself. Whoever found the punk usually wrote the review. Then we had other pals who signed on to review specific films that were already punk-confirmed, and that they were excited to write about. Then I proofed n’ edited them and that was it, until the general book proofing came around. That was a nightmare. Bryan, contributor Laura Fleischauer and I spent two weeks proofing, and then four people at Fantagraphics did the same, and we’re STILL finding typos!
O’Shea: I was surprised to see a film like Against All Odds included in the book, even more surprised after reading the review: “A typical ’80s noir throwback that benefits by having the dad from Webster in it. Though full of plot twists, it’s predictable, and the only surprise was the woman with intense eye make-up, chopped, messy bleached hair and bullet belt mingling with the wealthy at a posh nightclub. Later she dances to the safe sounds of Kid Creole & The Coconuts. Richard Widmark plays a corrupt angry man. He’s fine. Phil Collins has his title song play over the end credits. He’s paid. I watch this movie on my television. I’m bored. (BC)” Were movies like this included for comedic relief opportunities?
Bryan: It was included simply because a punk was in it. I would have preferred not
to because it is a terrible film. But the goal was to include every movie made before the year 2000 with a punk in it, so we had no choice.
O’Shea: Were there certain films you hoped to include in the book, but could not track down to review? Were there others that proved challenging to find, but that you were able to include ultimately?
Zack: It’s nice to be able to say it, but we honestly tracked down everything we were looking for. And many were tough/expensive to get our hands on. The closest call was the film Banned from director Roberta Findlay. It was never released theatrically or on video, and Findlay allegedly hated it so much that she personally suppressed its release. We even called her at her day job, and she didn’t wanna talk about it. We eventually struck it lucky by reaching Banned’s writer Jim Cirile, who was friendly enough to email us a VHS dub. That movie is a true masterpiece, by the way.
O’Shea: The book is rich with archival photos, were there any favorites that you were pleased to include? And what were your sources for some of these gems?
Zack: I was the guy on image patrol. There was an even divide between VHS covers, old materials from magazines, glossies and internet discoveries. I even took a trip to LA to buy stills from some of the old memorabilia stores there, and came across some pretty great material. Some of the better images (like the Class of 1984 or Surf II stuff) came from the filmmakers themselves.
If anyone reading this is working on a research project, I strongly recommend looking beyond the web for images. Most of what you’ll find there is low resolution and will look lousy when reproduced, and it’s a lot more fun to stumble across stuff that isn’t just laid out for you online.
O’Shea: In terms of punk documentaries, I was struck by Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye’s response in the book’s interview: “A lot of times, the documentaries are put through a major distribution. They’re often tweaked. That American Hardcore movie—I know the guys who made that movie, I’m in the movie—but my analogy for that movie is it’s like watching people fuck through a keyhole. It’s titillating, but it’s not even close to what was actually happening.” In your experience, do you think the same could be said for a majority of documentaries about punk?
Zack: It’s probably largely true of documentaries about anything. Trying to capture the essence of something in 90 minutes is going to be a tough prospect, but that’s especially true when that thing is as large and important as punk.
O’Shea: How many interviews were conducted for the book?
Zack: 65 or so. There were a couple more that we didn’t use because the subject might have been hazy on the details, or just seemed to be answering by the numbers. We contacted about 130 people for interviews and I guess our returns on that were really pretty good, considering we couldn’t pay anyone for helping. A couple people asked for money, but if we had any, we wouldn’t be the kind of people who’d write this book.
O’Shea: Did your definition of punk change drastically in the course of working on this book? If so, how?
Bryan: My definition of punk didn’t change, but it was certainly interesting to learn what the old white men in Hollywood had as their definition: arrow through head, eats broken glass, harasses the elderly, etc.
O’Shea: Can you single out your favorite three to five favorite films among the book?
Bryan: Madame Wang’s, Surf 2, and Get Crazy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Zack: Those are all great. Also: Suburbia (’84), Joysticks, and Ladies & Gentlemen — The Fabulous Stains!
O’Shea: Man, how long did that index take to create?
BRYAN: It was a lot of work on our end and even more work on Fantagraphics’ end. We listed all the names, and they matched up the page numbers.
Zack: That was the rough part. It took five of them over a straight week. Ugh.
O’Shea: You thank a number of film rental places at the start of the book, some of them classified with an RIP (as having closed, I assume). How saddening is it to you to see storefront institutions fall victim to streaming technology and Netflix?
BRYAN: I like those places. I like them a lot. I like to talk to the people that work at them. Going to a RedBox must feel cold and depressing. Their selection is shot. Netflix is convenient, but I like to still rent VHS tapes, which they don’t have. I also get a headache browsing on a computer. I like to go to a tangible section and just pick up boxes I don’t
know anything about, sometimes finding a hidden treasure. This can’t be done the same way on the internet.
Zack: I agree. I’m constantly shocked by people’s willingness to forgo the most valuable resources we have — like bookstores and video stores — because of the lazy convenience of the internet. Why don’t people want to leave their homes? Are they afraid they’ll get struck by lightning or bitten by a dog? It makes me nuts.
O’Shea: Anything you’d like to discuss that I neglected to ask you about?
Zack: The world is full of semi-illiterate jackasses poking at their cell phones and treating each other like shit.