BAMcinématek’s “Punk ‘n’ Pie” series is more a study in late-20th-century Brit dandyism than rawk, but anyone interested in pop history will learn something from music-video director Derek Burbidge’s Urgh! A Music War (screening on November 29). Filmed on both sides of the Atlantic throughout 1980, with roughly an even split of U.S. and U.K. acts, this crowded concert doc pulls together performances by about three-score disparate bands and soloists. Each gets one song to make an impression, the only exception being the Police—incidentally managed by the film’s producer, Miles (brother of Stewart) Copeland. Burbidge’s shooting, for the most part, transcribes the acts without interruption—though why does flotsam kids-in-the-street footage keep polluting the concert scenes, along with the same three or four audience shots? Novelty acts abound here, as attention-starved charlatan exhibitionists rush into newly opened “underground” frontiers. John Otway tumbles, Skafish blasphemes boringly, and, grabbing the gold for ridiculous, Gary Numan tries to look cool and haughty while puttering around the stage in some trolley right out of an abandoned amusement park. About as often, though, the theatricality is sanctified—or “pulled off”—by the grace of chops. Gang of Four are surprise-upstaged at stern gouging by the Au Pairs. Lux Interior slobberjobs his mic through the Cramps’ “Tear It Up.” Devo deploy in full Audio-Animatronic synchronicity. David Thomas does a pathos-filled special-needs-class Beckett playlet before his Art of Walking Pere Ubu lineup. Is the war of the title supposed to be the melee of different idioms (reggae, synth, hardcore) here? What makes Urgh! fascinating is just how arbitrarily curated its nostalgia-defying survey of Exciting New Music seems, equivalent to hearing a totally random two hours of vintage college radio. Copeland and Burbidge’s kino eye blinked and missed the Wipers, the Sleepers, the Fall, Swell Maps, Sugar Hill Records. It paused, however, to immortalize Athletico Spizz 80, Splodgenessabounds, and Invisible Sex. Whatsit they always say about hindsight? Still, their idea of what mattered holds up better than Rolling Stone‘s.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 26, 2008