One of the most frequently observed aspects of technologies that record moving images is their uncanny ability to bring back the past, to make the past seem present in front of the viewer. All sorts of metaphysical issues abound here: nostalgia, ‘reality’, duration, the passage of time, aging, mortality, and along with these, the notion of cultural eras, trends, fashions, revolutions in thought and art. Yes, I’m being quite lofty here, but to be honest, these are exactly the kinds of thoughts that went through my head as I watched Aldo Erdic’s short film Circa 1977: The Diodes (2009) at the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival last week.
Edic’s film revisits the 1970s Toronto punk scene, influenced by the simultaneous one burgeoning in New York (for more on that, see my review of The Blank Generation ). In particular the film focuses on Toronto punk band The Diodes, whose ballsy, thrashy, upbeat tunes invigorated the local scene at the outset of the punk era. The film is particularly focused on Toronto itself and the neighbourhoods and locations where The Diodes rehearsed, recorded, and played live. Most of the buildings have by now been transformed into, like, dentists’ offices and spring roll restaurants and other such banal corporatized stuff. The film takes the band members on a tour of the old haunts, and intersperses the contemporary footage with old recordings of live shows in both Toronto and New York, where The Diodes frequently placed with other punk scene mainstays like The Dead Boys and The Ramones.
The Diodes have recently reunited and played a few shows at both this year’s and last year’s NXNE festivals. The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, which I think testifies to some lingering nostalgia about a pre-Green Day (blech) time when punk rock was really something . The film itself makes the uniqueness and power of this era palpable. The guys are jumping around, sweating and spitting, all over a stage which we later learn from guitarist John Catto was self-made from wooden boards laid over cinderblocks. The energy and excitement are tangible, even in fuzzy, dated video footage from decades ago. The film, however, carefully stays away from excessively romanticizing the past; the current (reunited) members chat about how great those times were, but they also express a reserved excitement about the present and The Diodes’ recent reunion concerts. This isn’t only a film about how great the ’70s punk rock era was, but also about how such energy never really dies and can always be reinvigorated by dusting off the ol’ drumkit and plugging in some guitars and starting all over again.
While Circa 1977: The Diodes is generally optimistic, energetic, and celebratory, I have to admit there was a bit of sadness when the guys revisited one of the old clubs they used to play, and it had turned into that annoying spring roll place across the street from MuchMusic. A sandwich board in front of the restaurant proclaimed: “No Rock… Just Roll” (referring, obviously, to the awesomeness of their spring rolls). But, as The Diodes quipped, this is one part of Toronto’s cultural legacy that has sadly been lost: a little bit of (punk) rock.
The great news is that you get another chance to see the film! Due to the overwhelming response to last week’s NXNE show (the NFB screening room was packed, no empty seats), the film will be shown again this Friday, June 25 at Toronto’s Oz Studios (134 Ossington Ave.) at 8:00 and 9:30 pm. The screening is in conjunction with the exhibit “Your Pretty Face Is Going To Hell: Toronto Punk 1973-1982”, a collection of rare photographs by Vince Carlucci of another ’70s Toronto punk band, The Cardboard Brains. The night will also include a rare screening of the The Last Pogo , the original 1978 documentary on the Toronto punk scene directed by Colin Brunton ( Roadkill, Highway 69, Hedwig And The Angry Inch ). Admission is free, but seating is limited so make sure you arrive early; if the crowd’s enthusiasm is anything like that of last week’s, it’s sure to be a sell-out screening.