DVD Review: Revenge of the Mekons

MekonsDVD8STUDIO: Music Box Films | DIRECTOR: Joe Angio
RELEASE DATE: 7/28/15 | PRICE: DVD $29.95
BONUSES: Mekons live concert, Mekons symposium, outtakes, interviews, poster gallery
SPECS: NR | 96 min. | Documentary | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video   | Overall

 

Punk music is old enough now, it seems, to warrant a whole slew of books, documentaries, and other historical inquiries dedicated to preserving and trumpeting this once-maligned musical movement. An “art form” that no one thought would last a decade, punk remains strong and relevant today, probably because everything it was fighting against remains just as problematic today.

RevengeoftheMekons_3So who the hell are the Mekons? A band that encapsulates the spirit of punk much better than the Clash or the Sex Pistols, the Mekons were there when it all started, and continue to make interesting, relevant music today—a claim no one else in punk rock, and very, very few in all of pop music, can make (the closest might be punk brethren the Damned, but even those guys have broken up, splintered, and stopped evolving artistically.) And while the Mekons haven’t sounded very “punk” in a long time, their entire approach to making music exemplifies the punk aesthetic better than the fashion-conscious Pistols ever did. They’ve stuck together for more than three decades, continually evolving, growing, and improving despite never making a dime off their work… all of which is why Joe Angio’s documentary Revenge of the Mekons exists.

To be clear, this is not “great cinema;” there is no secret twist of a story a la Searching for Sugarman, or any masterful narrative crafting being done here. It simply and humbly tells the story of this democratic art student collective, starting when no one could play their instruments (a punk rock cliché that happens to be completely true in this case) and ending now, with a large group of past-the-middle-age-mark rockers producing vibrant albums and touring while the rest of the music industry hobbles along. But that’s the beauty of the Mekons: they’ve never done anything the normal way and, against all logic, are still here.

Along the journey, you get a taste of their other pursuits (as painters, for example) and hear lots of praise from “celebrity” fans like author Jonathan Franzen, rendering this film more for Mekons fans than anyone else. But for the rest of us, the lesson is still a valuable one: do your thing long enough and you will be rewarded, if not with riches, then at least with enough love and respect to make your chosen path worthwhile.

If you’re a bona-fide Mekons fan, owning this Music Box DVD is probably mandatory, since it includes not only a bunch of extra scenes but also hipster deity Will Oldham performing his tribute to the Mekons live from his living room. There’s a short literary Mekon symposium, a poster gallery, and the piece de resistance: a 40-minute, 2011 set at the Bell House in Brooklyn. If you listen to their first album, 1979’s The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen, and then check this concert out, you will start to understand the beauty of this unique group, and the fascinating four-decade evolution that has earned them a cult status in the truest sense of the word.

 

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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.