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MVD Visual Entertainment
Sex Pistols frontman Johnnty Rotten in the rock doc "D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage."
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- While rock n’ roll might be dead on the radio, give or take a pander or two, it lives on, ironically enough, in the very format that killed it and its stars: on video.

The once lonely audio has joined up with the far flashier video to make a holy union of entertainment and education, with pulse-pounding docs blasting out those jungle rhythms faster than they can be burned and pressed, going as far as to resuscitating long-lost documents of the dead for a new generation far more hell-bent for leather than nostalgia.

As an enterprising adolescent on an increasingly insatiable quest for more and more records, tapes and cassettes to devour, I was able to make a small business through bootlegging rock concerts in exchange for store credit throughout many of the more indie record stores throughout Oklahoma City in the 1990’s.

One of my more popular wares was the 1981 documentary D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage, the groundbreaking film by Lech Kowalski documenting the ill-fated Sex Pistols 1978 tour of American South.

After years of shady dealings and tenth-generation dupes, the film has been released as the inaugural selection in the new MVD Rewind Collection, beautifully restored to its gritty, grimy glory, so entrenched in the then punk scene that the spit flies off the screen and hits the viewer square in the face.

Featuring performances from the Dead Boys, Generation X, Sham 69 and, of course, the Sex Pistols—not to mention the notorious footage of a doped-up Sid and Nancy attempting an interview — D.O.A. is pure anarchy in the U.S.A.

Watching the dangerousness of D.O.A., however, it has to make one snicker at how 1950s parents, politicians and other authority figures believed clean-cut crooners and well-coiffed guitarists were to be the real downfall of society, their self-appointed God being controversial DJ Alan Freed, a pied piper leading their kids to Hell on what I’m sure is a truly rockin’ ride. It don’t get much better than 1959’s fictionalized Go, Johnny, Go (Sprocket Vault) starring the aforementioned Freed with the master himself, Chuck Berry, scouting the country looking for the next heartthrob, Johnny Melody.

In-between heart-stopping performances from Ritchie Valens, Jackie Wilson, Eddie Cochran, the Flamingos and more, heart-throb Jimmy Clanton stars as an orphan with a velvet voice determined to make it to the top of the charts as the suave monikered Johnny Melody—as long as the siren’s call to crime doesn’t lure him in first! It’s a loose plot hung on numerous legendary performances coming in a little over and hour. It’s all of the rock and none of the clock!

As bad-ass as Berry’s guitar stylings were—and they were—they were nowhere near as dangerous as the two-fisted riffs that emanated from the six-strings of Link Wray, the Native American guitar-slinger that appropriately kicks off the documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Kino Lorber), the absolutely true tale of the small tribe of Native American musicians throughout the rock era that have helped to redefine the sound every beat of the way.

Every genre is represented and every Native accounted for, from the blues of Charley Patton to the folk tunes of Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Americana revisionism of Robbie Robertson to the heavy metal drums of Randy Castillo, every Indian that ever tore the house down from the roof down is repped judiciously with plenty of surprises thrown in along the way that are guaranteed to add a few seminal enough LPs to the shopping list next time you head out to the neighborhood record store.

Guitarist Mick Ronson might have been English by birth but he was definitely Martian by choice as his life story is visually retold in Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story (MVD Visual), a pretty thorough account of the Ziggy Stardust side-piece who’s stinging riffs and otherworldly solos practically gave Bowie’s glam greatest hits the alien sound that defined a generation of rock fans who didn’t belong on this planet.

One of those fans was the notorious Steven Patrick Morrissey, a dour misfit who spent most of his time writing nasty letters to the NME while yearning to start a band of his own, at least that’s what we’re told in the wholly unauthorized biopic England is Mine (MVD Visual).

England is Mine features Jack Lowden as future Smiths singer Steven Patrick Morrissey. (MVD Visual Entertainment)

Focusing on Moz’s teen years, Jack Lowden embodies what I’m sure fans would like to think the future Smiths’ songsmith was probably like in those crucially cruel years, eschewing romance and friends for pithy commentary and futile artistry.

While the music is kept at a minimum—there’s only one performance in the film and it’s from his first band, the Nosebleeds—this wonderfully melancholy fan-fictionous take on the enigmatic early years is definitely by-the- book, but it’s a pretty good book. The enigmatic charisma and icon shaping probables are present and accounted for, the aura of a heaven knowing just how miserable Morrissey would become making for an enthralling 94 minutes.

Around that same time period, circa ’82, a well-known jerk of almost equal candor was jetting off to Palermo for a notorious end-of- tour show that documentarian Salvo Cuccia completely missed out on. His attempt to recreate the whole scene is wildly documented here in Summer ’82: When Zappa Came to Sicily (MVD Visual), a fan-friendly indulgence that Frank Zappa completists will undoubtedly clamor for, but, like most things Zappa, will leave the uninitiated scratching their soul-patches.

Sure, Zappa’s music was, for the most part, an acquired taste, but then again, what faction of rock and roll truly isn’t? Don’t knock it ‘till you tried it all, superstar and who knows, maybe your name will end up in the thank you of the liner notes of a DVD tray liner someday.

Keep on rockin’ … err … watchin’ in the free world.

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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