The House Of The Rising Punk is an interesting feature that was originally created for broadcast on German television. Directed by Christoph Dreher, the hour long documentary traces the history of New York City punk rock from the early efforts of bands like Television, The Stooges, The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Blondie and Suicide through to the late seventies by way of interviews with those who were there and archival clips of the bands in action.
The film begins by explaining what was happening around The Bowery on the lower east side of New York City in the early seventies. A lot of upper class white families were moving out of the city and into the peace of the suburbs leaving the inner city impoverished and full of immigrant groups. The Bowery in particular was full of homeless people, particularly in the area around a small club named CBGB. Seeing as the high crime rate and skuzzy living conditions of the area kept the rents down, it soon became a popular area for starving musicians and the burgeoning underground music scene adopted CBGB as its home base.
From here we learn of the impact that pre-punk bands like Iggy And The Stooges and The New York Dolls had on the New York bands that would soon overshadow them and how drug use was fairly rampant in the scene at the time. Interviews with the likes of Tom Verlaine, Dee Dee Ramone, Richard Hell, Legs McNeal, Jim Jarmusch, Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye give the documentary plenty of credibility and allow the interviewees to share some of their own personal memories of an era that has gone on to be unusually romanticized by a lot of music fans. The reality of the situation is that this was an incredibly tough area of town that had a lot of problems - and the music that sprung out of if reflected that.
While Dreher's documentary doesn't really tell fans of the era and the scene anything they don't already know, a lot of this footage is exclusive to the documentary and it's that footage that makes it worth seeing. Captured using 8mm and early video tape, a lot of it looks rough and sloppy but that works in the context of the music and the scene that it's documenting. The film could have gone more in depth and covered more bands - the Dictators aren't even mentioned though they do appear in one black and white photo and the Cramps are nowhere to be scene - but what's here is good and it would be incredibly difficult to cover everything in one single film. Ultimately, this feature works well as a crash course in early New York punk rock. Experts won't leave anymore enlightened than they already are but they'll enjoy the archival clips and those experiencing the music for the first time will likely find all manner of new music to explore - always a good thing.
The 1.33.1 fullframe image is a patchwork made up of old archival footage shot in black and white in dingy New York City punk clubs, man on the street footage, and newly shot interview footage. The newly shot interview footage looks fine, the rest of the material is hit or miss, and much of it is in rough shape. You can't really fault the documentary or the transfer for this, it's simply the nature of the beast and it's better to have this material in rough shape than to not have it at all. The picture is interlaced but aside from that there aren't any noticeable authoring issues nor are there any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or heavy edge enhancement. All in all, this material is watchable enough - just don't be expecting pristine quality as that's just not realistic.
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is free of any hiss or distortion though some of the archival clips are a bit rough in spots. Dialogue stays clean and clear and there aren't any problems with the levels. All in all, this is a fairly basic track but it does get the job done. Seeing as this was a special made for German television, you can expect to see some German language titles pop up on the screen in a few scenes. Thankfully this is the exception and not the rule and it doesn't ever become too annoying.
Aside from some animated menus and chapter selection options, the only 'extra' is a list of credits for the people who made the DVD. Aside from that, there are no extra features whatsoever on this releases - which is a shame. Inside the keepcase is an insert containing two pages of liner notes from Alex Ogg that share his thoughts on the NYC punk scene of the era and how much of this footage came to be captured in the first place.
Some decent archival footage and a few interesting interviews make this worth a watch despite the completely barebones presentation. Music documentary junkies and those with an interest in the seventies New York City punk scene will enjoy this - recommended if you fall into that category, a solid rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.