Alright, let's get this out of the way now: Wake Up Screaming is awful. Blindly, astonishingly, offendingly awful. If you don't want to read the rest of the review, I don't blame you. There's really nothing more important to learn about this documentary, except perhaps why it's so awful. If you want to know, then by all means, please continue.
When I first got Wake Up Screaming in the mail, I groaned inwardly. I hate modern "punk." The reason I put it in quotes is because modern "punk" has nothing to do with any bands that have generally been considered punk. The Sex Pistols, X, Black Flag, The Clash, The Misfits, The Stooges, and other bands like them created and defined what punk is. Modern "punk" bands have about as much to do with with these bands as The Carpenters did, except The Carpenters at least could put a good melody together. However, I decided, it's entirely unfair of me to prejudge any movie I'm asked to review, so I put the disc in with an open mind. And you know what? It turns out I was wrong. I thought this documentary would be bad. But it's so much worse than I could ever have imagined.
You see, Wake Up Screaming is not just a documentary of The Warped Tour. No, it's actually a feature-length ad for PETA that happens to take place at The Warped Tour. That's right, PETA. Moreover, it's really about one guy: Jason Bayless (who, I'm amazed to find out, is NOT the director of this film). Jason Bayless is a long time PETA activist who has gone on The Warped Tour four times. But more about him later.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't punk about anarchy in the UK? As I remember it, most punks were pretty radical, and not in a cute and cuddly way. They may have had bad rhetoric, but at least it was offensive bad rhetoric. You wouldn't hear Sid Vicious talking about how he didn't want little bunny rabbits to be hurt or Glen Danzig worrying about chicken cruelty at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Hearing all of these "punk" musicians spouting jingoistic catchphrases about becoming a vegan just put the final nail in the coffin as far as I'm concerned. These aren't punks, they're just wannabes.
Anyway, back to Jason Bayless. He is, without a doubt, the sole focus of this documentary. Granted, the back of the case does mention that the documentary is seen through his eyes, but even then, you would expect the movie to at least be about the tour, right? Wrong. It's just about Jason, PETA, and those cute fuzzy animals. It just happens to take place at the Warped Tour. If I actually wanted to hear some of these bands (which, I think you can tell by now, I didn't), I would be pretty pissed.
The low point of the documentary (don't let that phrase fool you into thinking there are any high points, as there aren't) is when the filmmakers take the opportunity to go back to Jason's childhood home, so we can find out why he got into PETA in the first place. What, you might ask, does this have to do with the Warped Tour? I'll tell you: nothing. A big fat nothing. We even get to hear about how Jason is separated from his wife. "Who cares!?" I practically wanted to scream at the screen.
The film is littered with short interviews with members of the various bands who performed at the tour. Most of them talk about how great it is to be a vegan/vegetarian and how wonderful PETA is. Most of them talk about how much more healthy a vegan diet is. What's scary is that almost all of them cite one or two specific PETA videos as the reason for going vegan, not because they did actual research themselves. Some of these videos are included as extras as on the disc, and none of them give you enough information to make that kind of life changing decision.
The long and the short of Wake Up Screaming is that it's pure PETA propaganda, thinly veiled as a look inside The Warped Tour. Even discounting how bad some of the bands in the film are, this is still just done in poor taste. If you want to make a PETA video, go make a PETA video. If you're going to make a movie about a rock concert, then make it a damn movie about a rock concert!
Wake Up Screaming is a low-budget, 4x3 affair, but it didn't look too bad. Any problems with the transfer seemed to be from the source. If you've seen any kind of "on the run" documentary, you'll know what this looks like. Considering the source material isn't so great, the actual disc will never look fantastic, but they did what they could with what they had.
Despite the flick's low budget origins, the DVD does include a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Most of it is used for music and crowd noise, and it isn't very enveloping. Oddly, I found that at times Jason's voice would come through every single speaker, which to me suggests either a very odd stylistic choice or a very bad mixing job. Also included is a 2.0 mix.
Well, if you weren't entirely certain that this whole endeavor was funded by PETA, the extras confirm it. Included are not one, not two, but THREE PETA videos. "Chew On This," "Meet Your Meat," and an Al Sharpton KFC PSA. To say that these are subtle would be to completely mangle the meaning of that word and then spit on its corpse. These are heavy-handed, self-righteous, and utterly unwatchable. I was hoping the Al Sharpton PSA would at least be humorous, but Reverend Sharpton is uncharacteristically subdued (and wooden).
Up next are "Wake Up Screaming at South By Southwest" and assorted interviews, both of which essentially say the same thing: "I love PETA, veganism, and cuddly animals!" Absolutely no one has anything original or interesting to say. Of course, if anyone did, I'm sure they wouldn't have been chosen for inclusion on the DVD. But to hear so many people say the same thing so many times is kind of scary. Almost like brainwashing.
Finally, for those of you who actually bought this disc for, oh, I don't know, bands who played at The Warped Tour, the disc graciously includes several full performances from a few bands. Of course, I still have no interest in this music, so they didn't do anything for me. Also included are outtakes which, well, aren't any more interesting than the movie, honestly.
Wake Up Screaming is so aptly named, I almost feel bad saying that just the mere thought of it is enough to make me wake up screaming myself. It's nothing but PETA propaganda disguised as a documentary about a rock show. I can only hope that anyone who actually enjoys the music of the bands on The Warped Tour find a better document of the tour than this, because as it is, the fact that this takes places at The Warped Tour is utterly incidental. This documentary is underhanded, sneaky, and completely false in its motives. Avoid it at all costs. Skip It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.