I grew up listening to a lot of heavy metal, with a little bit of British influence to bands like Motorhead and King Crimson for various reasons, but in the last decade or so I've gotten more and more into older punk music from the ‘70s and ‘80s, thanks to Henry Rollins' ‘Harmony in my Head' radio show, broadcast in Los Angeles. The show was named after a song from the British punk band the Buzzcocks, and it was a springboard into various types of music, but at its heart was a variety of British punk, and it was there where I learned about The Damned's music, but knew little of the group. And now a documentary attempts to bring more focus on the group who were always talented yet never made the big time.
Wes Orshoski directed Don't You Wish That We Were Dead, which follows the members of the band through touring from 2011 to 2014. It includes footage with singer Dave Vanian (David Lett), guitarist Captain Sensible (Ray Burns), bassist Stu West, drummer Pinch (Andrew Pinching) and keyboardist Monty Oxymoron. This is the current lineup of the band; the band started with Vanian, Sensible, guitarist Brian James and drummer Rat Scabies (Chris Millar). First formed in 1976, the band released their first single, album, and went on a North American tour before most British punk bands, including one that included a band called the Sex Pistols with John Lydon and Sid Vicious. The band in its various forms has released two dozen studio and live albums through the years, and more than a dozen singles have cracked the top half of the UK charts, and the band continues performing today with the membership in their sixties.
The biggest question about The Damned may be how come they never reached their potential considering the talent within the group, and Orshoski tries to get the film to answer that question while also allowing it to serve as a walk through the five decades the band has been on the music stage. Along with interviews from musicians both current (Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal) and of the era (Lemmy from Motorhead [who played in the band for a brief period]and Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders), and notable fans (Fred Armisen, Portlandia), Orshoski paints a compelling picture about the band, and how the members put up with in switching on and off stage personae, and the various friction between the band as well.
Orshoski also interviews former members of the band too, including Bryn Merrick, a bassist during most of the ‘80s for the group, who was suffering from cancer at the time of filming (he died in 2015). Merrick replaced Paul Gray, and Gray also had the same type of cancer, and both were being treated by the same people unbeknownst to the other. Seeing their stories, and Sensible discussing his emotional breakdown are surprisingly softer, poignant moments, in a band with a rotating door of mischiefs.
Orshoski does attempt to answer the question about why a talented group never hit stardom, either in America or their native England, and I don't think he found an answer. And considering the nature of the individuals, they seem to be firmly individuals, who managed to find a commonality in their music and challenging themselves. Their Black Album There was no leader amongst them because goodness knows the band wouldn't have lasted as long, but they continue to make music and tour on their own terms. If they find large swaths of fans in something they do, so be it, it's not going to change how they do things, and they'll continue to be punks for as long as they can.
And they wouldn't have it any other way.The Blu-ray:
The 1.85:1 transfer befitting Don't You Wish That We Were Dead is pretty good. It juggles several different sources with ease, and the newly shot interviews and concert footage look sharp as a tack. The older film comes from broadcast video or camcorders and looks as accurate as possible, with any noise or artifacts in the source material inherent to the image and colors are natural as possible without enhancement or, on the other side of things, saturation issues. It's not a completely color film, the blacks and whites also look natural from the material which was used in the picture. It is a straightforward replication of the film.The Sound:
The music is the thing the Blu-ray wants to show off and it does fine. There aren't a lot of moments to show off the range of the soundtrack; aside from a couple large outdoor shows things are confined to clubs, old tape and interviews, and they all sound clear. New interviews sound well-balanced and clear and the soundtrack is as clean as can be. It was a treat to listen to the music again.Extras:
There are a few things to entertain you: "Nobody Busks in L.A." (5:02) is an appreciation segment from Armisen where he and Sensible talk about their time at Saturday Night Live and in the band, respectively, before they go outside and play some tunes. "Captain's Tour of Croydon" (17:24) shows the boyhood jobs of the man, while "The Anarchy Tour" (12:17) recounts the tension between the groups, or between the groups' managers more specifically. "The Doomed" (7:52) looks at Henry Badowski and that brief era of the group, while a performance of "Smash it Up" played at Captain's 60th birthday closes things out (3:39). There's also a standard definition disc.Final Thoughts:
By no means do The Damned have a high caliber story that a lot of people need to see, but the film is made by a devotee and examines the band's existence, in and out of the titular The Damned, and does it warts and all. It doesn't hide from the warts and wonders what could have been in a fascinating, pure hearted tale. Technically the disc is good, and the bonuses are fine. Ultimately, even those not familiar with the band could take this one out for a spin.