I Saw A Film!
This is just a straight up concert film, mostly a single camera angle from the heyday of Black Flag, by this time in their third or fourth, but many will argue, best iteration. It was right around the time friends and I saw them, and having never actually seen images of the band (it being 1984-85) we actually weren’t even sure it was Black Flag when they took the stage. We were mostly only familiar with the Damaged album and while they opened with Life of Pain the experience was so unlike what we anticipated, and the show leaning heavily on newer material that we weren’t familiar with, that we found ourselves confused. Hell I didn’t even know their bass player was a girl! The slender Kira hides behind a lock of hair, and watches guitarist Ginn (the punk rock elder) for the changes, one of the many ladies of punk rock that don’t get enough credit especially in our current day of WAP.
So here, in Britain, is Black Flag looking and sounding as we experienced them, though in our show (Providence, RI), Henry jumped off the stage and landed hard on the floor (no one caught him, I wasn’t near the front) and did much of the rest of the show from his back. Good thing they didn’t try to present that as a film. The power, dissonance, and angst of the band’s music backing Henry’s roaring vocal presentation is fully represented by the gritty film.
Rollins opens the show, quoting a copy of Tropic of Cancer, he ends it responding to some guys, off camera, who apparently made fun of him all night. Rollins says something to the effect of, “It doesn’t make fun of me it makes fun of yourselves.” Watching him actually confront these guys earnestly and vulnerably is one of the weirder aspects of the show. What performer bothers to pay attention to hecklers?
I don’t know that this film could inspire new fans to the band. The material is of a style, of course, Greg Ginn never plays his leads in key despite skillful finger athleticism, it comes across more as Ornette Coleman free jazz than the lock-step predictability of rock. Also, different from most of the hi-energy, frenetic punk rock of the day, Black Flag favors some dirge-like longer pieces. Henry works himself into a sweaty passion that, if you’re along for the ride, vulnerable to it, is an impressive catharsis. If you aren’t open to it, remaining aloof, it looks like any religious rite we aren’t invested in.
Rollins performs basically in underwear showing off all his tattoos the Search and Destroy across his shoulders (the old Sub-chaser motto) which impressed me as a young man as I patted his shoulder after the show and told him “Good show, Henry!” to my surprise he thanked me, his voice hoarse. In recent times Henry is an actor, and I liked him best in He Never Died, a strange Biblical vampire tale, about the boredom of immortality.
This is free on PRIME USA. A time capsule of old punk rock shows (that haven’t changed much) from the dirty old 80s. For me it reminds of the strength and hope of non-conformity, and powerful independence of intellectual spirit that too often we are forced to forget in our day to day lives of blue collar laboring and peace-making. The world doesn’t see the howling Rollins deep in our chests, but they don’t need to, he keeps us burning.