I always find it vindicating and exciting when music - in whatever form it is taking - has the ability to unify, transform and empower. That's exactly what took place in Little Rock, Arkansas beginning in the late 1980s, in a small conservative town that is - according to one of the subjects in this 2007 documentary - "not quite Southern, not quite Midwest and not quite Texas".
Towncraft documents the rise of the entire DIY punk music scene in Little Rock, as director Richard Matson presents a chronological history from 1986 through 2007, with interviews, recordings and shaky home video of the bands in action. These were pre-Internet era high school aged kids taking the initiative to express themselves in a new way, form a record label, create 'zines, stage clandestine shows and by doing so feed the next generation the very same independent message so that the movement would grown and flourish.
It matters little that you've likely never heard of any of these bands, because it's not so much about the bands as it is about the scene, about the rise against the same-old-same-old, about the ability to create an identity centered around music and the mindset that goes with it. Matson maintains a consistent voice throughout, using the core founders of the movement to comment and narrate the happenings, the reactions and the evolution of the scene. Upright Citizen Brigade-er Matt Besser, part of the disenfranchised Little Rock teenage populace at the time, gets some screen time discussing his homemade 'zine, but by and large the people Matson features are the pioneers that you've never heard of, the people that took an idea and made into something that meant more than just music.
The doc's title comes from a 1992 compilation that these assorted young punks assembled, recorded and released themselves, and that word 'towncraft' pretty much sums up the whole DIY mentality of what was happening in Little Rock. It's a collective voice, an independent product that represents a new sub-strata of the town's creative side, which previously seemed to consist solely of hunting and hanging out by the lake, according to another interviewee. Matson shows that as bands formed, split and become other bands, the movement grew, evolving in new ways, as musicians came and went from Little Rock. The music may be coarse or unpolished at times, but there's little arguing the unfettered grooviness of seeing the manner in which it unified a subculture.
It's not all roses, as Matson touches on the inevitable aging process, and how the progenitors find themselves 15 years older, pushing 30 and wondering what happens next. It's not necessarily bittersweet for all, but the monster they helped form still lumbers on, changing and reinventing itself. As a guy who lived the twists and turns of the original punk movement in the late 1970s this documentary literally gave me goosebumps, seeing these kids stand up for themselves musically and socially.
It's a beautiful thing to see, and Towncraft is like a microcosm of everything that is cool and liberating about rock and roll.
The film is presented in a 1.33:1 window-boxed aspect ratio, utilizing a mixture of "vintage" period footage of varying quality and more controlled current day (or 2007, specifically) interview segments. While the band footage is understandably hit or miss, the talking head portions look solid, with generally consistent fleshtones and colors.
The 2.0 stereo audio is simple, but it handles the interview segments just fine. The homemade footage of the bands in-action varies in quality, but that's to be expected. All in all the mix is more than adequate for the content, and anything more grandiose just would seem unnatural for the musical aesthetic.
There's a lot here, and the sturdy packaging has no issues containing it all. A heavy-cardboard side-open slipcover houses a thinpak case for the film, a thinpak case for the two 20-song CDs and also a 55-page booklet with photos, comments, comics from so-called "Little Rock expatriates". The jewel here are the two audio CDS, which really help add a three-dimensional texture to the bands discussed in the doc, with disc one covering 1986-1996 and the second disc covering 1997-2007.
The rise of the bootstrap alt-music scene in Little Rock, Arkansas in the mid-1980s is given the royal treatment from Matson Films, with not just the documentary but two CDs of featured bands and a 55-page booklet. As The Cramps once stated so eloquently: "goddamn rock 'n' roll..."