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Desolation Center, The Documentary

Movie Reviews Thursday, 24 January 2019 00:00
Director Stuart Swezey Director Stuart Swezey

Police Chief Daryl Gates was accused of being a xenophobe. He was antagonistic and ordered the shut down of many social gatherings. Swezey was there to witness the events; he's simply telling his story. Key to this feature-length movie is where could they move these concerts? Because they could not play in town, the people got creative in where to gather. As this culture moved further underground, fans who embraced this life were more than ready to plunk down $12.50 to get transported to the middle of the desert for shows which had nobody but themselves to enforce, cleanup and monitor. The sky was the limit; attendees witnessed performance art, explosive finales (yes, attempts to detonate cliff sides were made) and punk rock at its finest.

 

This 95-minute work is fascinating to watch. It highlights an era newcomers to the genre are unfamiliar with. To recall this era with video meant diving into Super8 or Betacam recordings. To hear it is just as raw. Some of the news media back then decided to stayed out of it or turned a blind eye. In those who decided to document these performances in the middle of nowhere, the feeling is very well expressed by those who went there.

Unlike today's era with immediate access to video recording equipment, the 80's was limited. The grittiness of the footage only exemplifies a time we do not always recall. The talking heads (ranging from attendees with chuckle worthy creative titles and the bands themselves) said what they saw was a "religious experience."

Live performances from Savage Republic, Sonic Youth, Minutemen, the Meat Puppets and Red Kross are interspliced within all the exposition going on. My attention was held as these performers talked about what they faced and how life back then inspired their words. One part was very informational, recounting the time, and other a highlight reel. No analysis is offered; it could have wrapped this work up better than hearing Swezey talking about how he thought he was done with the scene. After he finished paying off the Federal government for misuse of their property (no permit was acquired), he suddenly finds recognition by the National Endowment for the Arts. He's suddenly legit. He organized the huge Winter Solstice: Sun Stands Still (featuring Swans, Sonic Youth, Saccharine Trust and Debt of Nature).

Keeping this work focussed was tough. It mostly sticks to Swezey's story. Watching this documentary transported me to the dark side of the moon and learning some of the secrets held there. I don't want to go back into the light. No, Pink Floyd was not part of the scene, but I'm certain Syd Barrett would have felt at home here.

 

Written by  Ed Sum

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