Sitting in my library of DVDs sits this orange case containing one of the more memorable films from my teenage years - A low budget movie filmed entirely in the Salt Lake valley and surrounding areas, reflecting on the writer/director's time spent here in the early-mid 80's and his obsession with punk music. This tiny little gem of what's now become almost local right of passage to some known as “SLC Punk.” Its one of those films you crack out about once or twice a year for fun or because you say to yourself “why do I own this?” But it wasn't until a few weeks ago I wondered, “No, wait... why the fuck do I own this film?”
I caught wind of it when Radio From Hell got news of the Indian Center scene being filmed the night before and jumped right on top of hyping that a punk movie was being filmed in of all places, our backyard. About a week later all was quiet, no news or updates, and not even a peep about when they'd be finished or releasing the film. We basically sat around and wondered what the hell happened to it. …And then around February 1999 we saw the trailer. You'd think for a film with the phrase "SLC" in the title, it would be in every available theater from Logan to St. George. But no, the film had only a minor release in Utah itself. Four theaters, one screening a piece, I skipped class one day to see it. Eventually down the road I got it on DVD, tore it apart as both a writer and a fan, finding out every little fact I could about it from the comic book to the soundtrack and all points in-between. Breaking it out every now and again to watch with those who didn't even know it existed, for my own enjoyment, and on the occasion when I hear Adam & The Ants, Dead Kennedys or The Specials.
Locally "SLC Punk" had a lot of negative effects, especially on people who have a habit of becoming obsessed. Assholes who immediately went off on quests to find the real “Stevo”, questioning the three women that made up “Trish”, or harassing the late Sean Fightmaster. But I believe the worst of these types were the Bob-Hunters. Groups who found each other during the internet chat boom, planning get togethers all centered around the sick fascination of finding the grave of the real Heroin Bob. Much like the decades worth of teens would go search for “Emu”, only with organized meetings looking at graveyard maps at Dees. It also spurned out a brand new generation of nit-pickers. Jerks who saw the movie purely to point out local inconsistencies, shouting out phrases like “that's not Highland Park” or “wasn't built yet!” Which over time I've sadly learned made up a good portion of the initial Utah audience. Good thing it was filmed before the church played Monopoly with Main Street or I'm sure that would be a constant topic of discussion to this day.
The “redneck culture” and odd liquor laws aren’t inside jokes to us, they’re the norm. We’ve gotten so used to explaining these idiosyncrasies to visitors that we could recite them like nursery rhymes. The real jokes to us are the small moments that just appear without warning. Like the people who just go away one day without explanation, or the ones who stay and realize that this is “their home.” I’ve honestly been in conversations with about a dozen people over the past few years where the argument of “you’ve gotta have a home” pops up out of nowhere, and they’re not even inebriated when the words come out. Other points of the domestic… the overly/under medicated people who are two different personalities depending on the day and time, the “tribes” of people who live their lives according to what they see on TV, the truly insane people who act like Mark without the cash flow. It’s hard to decide whether these small points are reality reflected on film or vice versa.
At the end when you strip away the local references its purest form is a self-exploration film through the eyes of a guy who didn’t really know who he was, and clearly as the narrator, didn’t figure it out until long after he left SLC. The punk scene backdrop and the identity of Steve Levy are nothing more than colorful dressing to a story that at its core is very separated and jarring. And if anything the explorations of Anarchy and Religious Suppression are simply filler to points in life he couldn’t quite describe or didn’t want to revisit for one reason or another. So instead of a movie that could have been very enlightening to a generation of misguided youth, it became a quotable flick filled with digs at the state that only further pushed local stereotypes and showcased that parts of the 80s truly were a waste.
For what its worth it does make an honest attempt at trying to be more than just a jaunt through the semi-fictional scene, trying to take situations like dropping acid or Stevo telling off his parents and making them relatable to the masses. The end product gives you the feeling of a haphazard noir that ends more in a pre-constructed statement than self discovery. Yet core elements based out of music discussions, gatherings and modern folklore stir up a vibe of strange familiarity and wistfulness.
So what is the final outcome? Final summation… Eh, it’s okay. Ask me again in 2019 when we’re chatting up the 20th. Or go in with a blank slate, watch it yourself, and tell me what you think of it.
SLC Punk screens tonight at Brewvies. 8 p.m. Free.