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Salad Days: A Decade Of Punk In Washington, DC

New Horizons // Unrated // September 18, 2015
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted September 26, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Growing up in Northern Virginia, across the bridge from Washington D.C., it seemed like I was a million miles away (and admittedly a few years behind) the punk and Go-Go music that was springing up all over the area. I was familiar with it, but not intimate. There are contemporaries in today's music scene like local boy made good Dave Grohl (of the Foo Fighters) who are champions of D.C. music, and with the release of this documentary, Salad Days attempts to bring even more light to the period.

The film was originally started as a Kickstarter effort in 2012 by Scott Crawford. Crawford is the writer/director of the film but he also was a journalist during the era in discussion, creating "Metrozine," a fanzine publication that chronicled much of what occurred in the punk scene in D.C. Jim Saah was the film's Director of Photography, but he also did much of the photography that is seen in the film and was a photographic voice for the performances for that time. Using a mix of concert footage filmed in and around the area, along with stills taken at the time and interviews with many of those involved in the music, the film shows the genesis of punk in 1980s Washington D.C., the original motivations for it, and other elements as it evolved through the decade.

Salad Days interviews longtime noted admirers like Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, but also interviews guys like Fugazi frontman Ian MacKaye, singer and current spoken word guy Henry Rollins, and George Pelecanos, who some may recognize for his work on such David Simon projects like The Wire. It looks at the beginning of the punk scene in D.C., and shows its spirit of independence and doing things like performing, recording and releasing music all by themselves, the evolution of the bands into social causes, and embracing all components of the area music, whether it was the all-African American DC punk band Bad Brains or the Go-Go music of Trouble Funk and Chuck Brown in the late 1980s. All the while, setting itself against the backdrop of some of the most powerful symbols of government and politics in the world.

Rather than discuss some of the things that fans of punk in the 1980s would tie DC to in a larger context, such as comparing it to the punk scenes in New York and Los Angeles during that same time, you can sense that Salad Days puts its hand up to a viewer looking for this, almost saying, ‘We're not talking about other places right now. We're talking about D.C. punk in the 1980s, and that's all we're talking about.' That part of the film is commendable, because it's a scene that deserves its own attention without comparison to other places, as the White House being minutes away from many of these spots and how the music served to rally Left-leaning causes is interesting to view.

That point of pride also tends to get in the way of Salad Days on occasion, because it also seems to tell the story for itself from time to time. Basically if you were in the area and/or went to any of these shows, the film would seem to be for you, rather than spending 10-15 minutes introducing a viewer that may otherwise not be as familiar with the D.C. punk era, and it's an important era to mention, I think. Telling the story and having it on focus on certain people just does not make it work as a film with even the slightest of message.

Don't get me wrong, I liked Salad Days, but I think more people could have liked it if there was more polish adhered to the material in the film. It basically talks about the events, without giving someone reason to have interest in them. It is fiercely independent and wants to tell its own story on its own terms, which in a weird way goes to the nature of D.C. punk at that time, but I digress.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

Salad Days is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and uses the AVC codec, and things here look OK. The film uses a lot of stills and plays a lot of presumably beta video that has been transferred over to disc at some point in time, and on Blu-ray looks as good as it is going to. The contemporary interviews look good and the image is sharp for those for obvious reasons.

The Sound:

DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for Salad Days which, while unsurprising in its presence, does not have a lot to do. DC punk (well, a lot of punk for that matter) does not have a lot of involved bass in its songs, though the bass comes in on the Go-Go music. Which is to say the sound stage fills out a little more, but the subwoofer involvement on the whole is scarce. Sonically it sounds fine, pretty much your run of the mill soundtrack.

Extras:

The disc includes extended interviews with Rollins, Mackaye and other like J. Mascis (from Dinosaur Jr.) as they talk about things like playing live, recording and such. There are also live performances recorded at places like the Black Cat and the Lake Braddock Community Center, the latter of which showed a young Grohl playing for the band Mission Impossible in a small show, where punk bands playing Community Centers was a thing in Fairfax County, that I can assure you.

Final Thoughts:

Salad Days could have slightly borrowing from films like American Hardcore and shown you why the era and location was important but it fails to, and this misstep does hurt the film to a degree. The film should still definitely be seen and the music enjoyed, but the lack of direction to it hurts it the most. Technically the disc looks and sounds OK and the extras are decent if not run of the mill. Give it a spin.

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